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Do private German health insurers invest their capital reserves of €353 billion according to environmental, social and governance criteria?

Abstract

Background To prevent the planet from catastrophic global warming a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to net zero is required. Thus, divestment from fossil fuels must be a strategic interest for health insurers. The aim of this study was to analyse the implementation of environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria in German private health insurers’ investments.

Methods In 2019 a survey about ESG strategies was sent to German private health insurance companies. The survey evaluated investment strategies and thresholds for the exclusion of sectors and business practices, as well as company strategies for sustainable business development.

Findings Given their business reports, German private health insurers manage assets of more than €350 billion. 11 of 40 insurance companies provided quantitative data, 10 refused to answer. According to quantitative data, €66 billion of assets is managed according to any ESG criteria; this equals an average of 76% of each company’s bonds. None of these insurers excluded the production and sale of fossil fuels. All excluded coal mining but only at high thresholds. For €226 billion, no data were provided.

Interpretation The findings are in contrast to the expected intrinsic economic interest of the insurers to stop global warming and improve public health. The majority of assets are managed in a highly problematic manner, especially the absence of capital allocated in fields contrary to medical ethics (eg, firearms, armour) cannot be presumed. Lack of transparency is a major problem that limits clients in choosing the insurer who has the most advanced ESG criteria.

  • applied and professional ethics
  • environmental ethics
  • health care economics
  • interests of health personnel/institutions
  • public health ethics

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