Well – mea culpa – the title is totally misleading: what you are about to read about is in no way the first public healthcare program, it is just a very old one, the rest is merely designed to attract the gullible reader. Sorry.
Anyway, it is a cool story: the famous southern Italian folk music style known as tarantella used to have the reputation of curing the dreaded tarantula spider. The sound of the music was supposed to expel the evil spirits from the body of the victim, forcing her (most of the victims seems to have been females) into a secondary state accompanied by lascious dances which could last several days.
There were supposed to be a great number of different types of illnesses caused by the spiders’ bite: some made the victim sleepy, others angry, etc. Each type of illness went along with a special type of music and it could take several days for the musicians to find that specific type of music. As a result, the poor peasant (the most likely to be bitten) often found themselves badly indebted to the groups of medicinal musicians.
To avoid the whole countryside to get bankrupted, in the 17th century, the city of Taranto was forced to hire musicians who were in charge to treat the poor, thus in effect becoming one of the first public healthcare programs to be created in Europe. As late as the 1950s such groups could still be found.
(source: the booklet of the album Antidotum Tarantulae by L’Arpeggiata, see below)