Karl Lauterbach – career, virologist, federal health minister

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Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health © Bernd von Jutrczenka / dpa

The health expert Karl Lauterbach has been omnipresent in the media, especially since the beginning of the corona pandemic. Interesting facts about the career of Germany’s Federal Minister of Health.

Vienna – Karl Wilhelm Lauterbach, born on February 21, 1963 in Birkesdorf (today a district of Düren), first completed a university career after his studies before he discovered politics for himself. After initially belonging to the CDU, the doctor and university professor has been a member of the SPD since 2001 and has been a member of the German Bundestag since 2005. The academic health professional is considered the “social conscience” of his party. His political focus is health policy, the financing of social security systems, macroeconomics, long-term care insurance and the connection between health and education. Karl Lauterbach has already published several books on all these topics, including “The Cancer Industry”, “Healthy in the Sick System”, “The Two-Class State” or “Inventory of the Role of Outpatient Clinics in University Clinics in Research, Teaching and Care at Selected locations”. The man, whose trademark for a long time was the bow tie – in the USA the identifying feature of the doctor on the ward – has been a frequent guest on TV talk shows as an expert, especially since the beginning of the Corona crisis. In the first six months of 2020, for example, he was by far the most frequent guest on ARD and ZD. Due to his omnipresence in the media, the terms “Karlchen Everywhere”, “Darling of the Masses” or “Lauterbach here, Lauterbach there, Lauterbach there” are often spoken of within his party as well as in the media. He is an advocate of strict contact restrictions and a staunch opponent of quick easing. The father of five children finds relaxation through the martial art Wing Chun. He is a vegetarian and non-smoker and loves good red wine.

Karl Lauterbach – his university career

Karl Lauterbach grew up in Oberzier in the immediate vicinity of the Jülich nuclear research facility as the child of a working-class family. His father worked at a nearby dairy. Despite very good grades in elementary school, he only received a secondary school recommendation, which he later understood as discrimination due to his family background. At the Hauptschule he was underchallenged and, with the support of his teachers, switched first to the Realschule, then to the Gymnasium am Wirteltor, where he passed his Abitur in 1983. After graduating from high school, he first studied medicine in Aachen, Texas (USA) and Düsseldorf (1991: doctorate to Dr. med.). At this point, Lauterbach had already begun further studies at Harvard University (Boston/Massachusetts). The subjects: health economics (health policy and management) and epidemiology. The following year he earned his second doctorate from Harvard. The follow-up training was also made possible through the support of the CDU-affiliated Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation. Lauterbach has remained connected to the elite university to this day: he has been a guest lecturer since 1996. The first milestone in his career in Germany came in 1998 when he was appointed director of the newly founded Institute for Health Economics and Clinical Epidemiology at the University of Cologne. At the same time he became a professor. However, Lauterbach has been on leave in Cologne since the first election to the Bundestag. Lauterbach has always campaigned for medical care, long-term care insurance and other social areas. From 1999 to 2005 he was a member of the Advisory Council for the Assessment of Developments in the Health Care System. In 2010 Lauterbach received his license to practice medicine in Germany.

Karl Lauterbach – his party political career

In politics, Karl Lauterbach is seen as a career changer and a quick starter: for the SPD he made it into the Bundestag four times in a row as a direct candidate in the constituency of Leverkusen-Cologne IV. From 2009 to 2013, Lauterbach acted as health policy spokesman for the SPD parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives. In December 2013 he was promoted to deputy parliamentary group leader and in 2014 a member of several Bundestag committees. In 2013 he belonged to the shadow cabinet of the SPD chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück and was supposed to hold the post of health minister there.

In the 2017 election, Karl Lauterbach won 38.5 percent of the votes in his constituency. In the 17th legislative period, he was spokesman for the health working group of the SPD parliamentary group. From the end of 2013 to September 2019, Karl Lauterbach was deputy chairman of the SPD parliamentary group and was responsible in particular for health, education, research and petitions. He was a full member of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection. In July 2019 he ran for the SPD presidency together with his party colleague Nina Scheer. The duo took fourth place with 14.6 percent of the vote.

Karl Lauterbach – his federal political career

In December 2021, Karl Lauterbach was sworn in as the new Minister of Health in the new (traffic light coalition) government of Olaf Scholz, succeeding Jens Spahn. In one of his first speeches, Lauterbach announced that he wanted to make the healthcare system more robust and stronger and to forego cuts in healthcare. Lauterbach’s most important theses on social and health policy:

  • Introduction of citizen health insurance
  • Introduction of citizen health insurance
  • Combating trends towards two-tier medicine
  • Aligning medical care with evidence and cost-effectiveness
  • Fighting social inequality through health policy
  • Coping with climate change
  • Total ban on tobacco advertising
  • progressive legalization of cannabis and cocaine

Karl Lauterbach – his strategies against the Corona crisis

Karl Lauterbach sees one of his most important tasks in overcoming and handling the corona pandemic: He therefore repeatedly calls on all citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany to be vaccinated against the corona virus. He is optimistic about overcoming the pandemic: Karl Lauterbach had already stated several times that the omicron wave in Germany would probably peak in mid-February 2022. Until then, he expects several hundred thousand new infections per day. In his speech to the Federal Council on January 14, 2022, Lauterbach said that Omicron will not remain the last virus variant. Because an infection with Omikron does not protect against other virus variants, the pandemic is not over according to Omikron. It is to be expected in the autumn that new variants will appear against which there is no protection. Usually several times a day, Lauterbach publishes Twitter messages on current corona events and has to deal with hate comments, threatening letters, e-mails and news again and again. Even his car was once doused with paint by strangers in downtown Cologne. He has therefore specially secured his apartment. Without personal protection from the police, he no longer goes outside the door. But even within federal politics, Karl Lauterbach is repeatedly opposed to a sharp wind: Before the start of the federal-state conference in January 2022, several prime ministers accused Health Minister Karl Lauterbach of not having taken care of the PCR tests in good time to get supplies. According to “Spiegel”, Lauterbach is said to have received backing from his own party. The scarce PCR tests are therefore a legacy from predecessor Jens Spahn (CDU).

Karl Lauterbach – his awards and honors

  • In 2018 the SPD in Lindau honored Karl Lauterbach, member of the Bundestag at the time, with this year’s socialist hat. The socialist hat is one “Award for women and men who have distinguished themselves by thinking ahead of their society and their party”.
  • Due to his merits in overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic, but also for his work in the field of preventive and social medicine in the pre-corona period, the German Society for Social Medicine and Prevention (DGSMP e. V.), Karl Lauterbach with the Salomon Neumann Medal 2020. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the official award ceremony did not take place until September 2021 in Leipzig.


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