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Data purchase affair with Germany's largest private health insurance company

By Reuters Staff

Frankfurt (Reuters) - Employees of Germany's largest private health insurance company Debeka bought addresses of potential customers en masse in the 80s and 90s.

Insurance agents would have acquired these on their own account and distributed among themselves, CEO Uwe Laue admitted in a press release, essentially confirming a report by the “Handelsblatt” (Friday edition). According to the newspaper, it was about prospective civil servants. “The management team at the time lacked sensitivity to this issue of data protection law,” explained Laue, who is also president of the private health insurance association. "And I expressly include myself in this self-criticism." Laue, who has spent his 40-year professional life at Debeka, has held a leading position in sales since 1994.

Unlike most insurers, Debeka works with permanent sales staff. After the revelations, the company in Koblenz announced that it tightened the code of conduct issued in 2010 for its 17,000 employees. “A direct instruction reads: Debeka does not tolerate any form of bribery and corruption,” the statement said. How the insurance agents got the addresses, the Debeka left open. The health insurance company itself never bought addresses.

The “Handelsblatt” also reported, citing former employees, that high-ranking sales managers had bribed government employees in order to get to addresses of civil servants who were about to become civil servants. That gave them a competitive advantage when selling private health insurance. The health insurance company itself spoke of address sellers as a source: "Debeka has always refused to do business with address sellers." 1.87 million of the 2.2 million customers of the health insurance company are civil servants and their relatives. It has a market share of 25 percent in private health insurance. The addresses have significantly increased the success rate in sales, reported the newspaper. Where they came from was top secret. "It was clear to everyone at Debeka that this address purchase was illegal," she quoted a representative as saying.