Artabana is a community initiative in which small groups of like-minded people work together to plan and save for their healthcare, and share a pooled emergency fund.
Many people I know report that health insurance hasn’t served them well. It seems that private health insurers often charge excessive premiums, then frequently the restrictions on claims prove prohibitive. If we can even afford conventional health insurance, it can feel like we are sinking that money in a black hole with no guarantee the profit-driven company will come through with support when we need it. The idea of a more personal health plan that directly looks after my friends is very attractive.
The strength of Artabana is that people take responsibility for themselves and others in a small group. Contrasting with the profit-making regular insurance industry, Artabana helps to build a strong community by fostering care, generosity and accountability.
Artabana started in Switzerland in 1987 and has been popular in Anthroposophical and Steiner communities. The system spread rapidly through Germany where it is very strong. In Australia there is great interest in Artabana to pay for medical services that are not covered by Medicare. So far there is a founding group in Hobart, Tasmania.
Artabana involves small local groups whose members meet monthly, also join in social activities together as part of a community-building process that is fundamental to group cohesion and trust. Applicants must attend at least 3 meetings before they may be accepted because it is essential for everyone to get to know each other. It takes time to answer questions and establish if the individuals are the right fit for the group. If a group grows too big for all the members to properly know eachother, usually it will split. The ideal group size is about 5 to 10 people. Sometimes a member might move away but remain part of the group (using Skype) because good relationships already have been established.
Each member determines their own contribution rate based on their estimated personal yearly health budget. Contributions vary from one person to another according to health needs and individual means, although the group might decide on a minimum payment such as $80 per month. Member contributions received by the group are split 70:30, with 30% banked in an Emergency Fund.
The 70% portion of a member’s monthly contribution accumulates in their General Fund and is available to her/him for spending at any time on health and wellbeing according to personal choice. This may include medical consultations, procedures, massage, wheelchair, dental work, spectacles and so on. In Artabana, healthcare is sometimes interpreted quite broadly and the funds may be used for more preventative health strategies, even as diverse as visiting a retreat or buying a piano, if this is deemed important for health. Withdrawals are made through the treasurer by showing receipts but each member has autonomy and privacy for the decision.
- the local group’s Emergency Fund comprising the pooled 30% of members’ contributions
- sometimes private donations (gifts) from other members of the group
- financial support from other Artabana groups.
Assistance is not only monetary but also in the form of visits, transport and other support. These are groups whose members have come to really care about eachother. Contrasting with conventional insurance, claimants tend to be respectfully modest in accepting help and they genuinely try to keep their claims to a minimum.
Each group has a standard framework but sometimes with local differences. Documents and official procedures such as the Contribution Promise are usually adopted from the core organisation. A solicitor wrote up statutes for the Tasmanian group, and new Australian groups can probably start with the same documents while obtaining specific legal advice to adapt for different states. Groups are incorporated organisations managed by voluntary positions including president, secretary and treasurer. Each group administers its own accounts and may be audited. (A member of the Hobart group has developed software for this.) New member applications and emergency claims are decided at a local group meeting, for example by consensus. Generally an annual membership fee of $50 is collected to cover the cost of paperwork, website and so on. Artabana is not a tax-deductible health fund and it is not regarded as health insurance by Medicare.
There are many benefits arising from the solidarity and choice involved in Artabana. Taking self-responsibility and being proactive about our own health, also building community trust, are strategies that may actually lead to improved health and wellbeing, and this then tends to reduce the cost of claims. Artabana strengthens social consciousness and awareness in the community and this has the potential to seed broader shared projects such as supporting refugees, building a cooperative enterprise or funding a charity.
Thanks to Ulla Musik and Jane Reid Bradshaw from Artabana Tasmania.
also look on Facebook for Artabana groups.
Note: The name Artabana comes from a story in which Artaban was a fourth wise man (Biblical magi) who read the signs and set off to see baby Jesus in Bethlehem, but he kept stopping to help sick people and missed the caravan. He wandered for 33 years doing charitable work while looking for Jesus, then finally caught up with him just before the crucifixion. At his death, Artaban was honoured by God for his good deeds.