BREAKING: Insurance pioneer Rooney dies

J.K. Wall
September 15, 2008
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

J. Patrick Rooney, an Indianapolis insurance executive who championed health savings accounts and school vouchers, has died. He was 80.

Rooney, the former CEO of Golden Rule Insurance Co., was found dead this morning, according to his long-time personal attorney John Sullivan. Rooney apparently died in his sleep, Sullivan said.

Until shortly before his death, Rooney was active pushing for public school reforms and running a not-for-profit that challenged hospital bills for uninsured patients.

"Pat was an innovator," Sullivan said. "He pushed through medical savings accounts, which are now health savings accounts. He worked tirelessly for the uninsured and the underinsured. And for charter schools."

Sullivan recalled that when Rooney was on the road selling insurance in the late-'40s and early-'50s, he at times ate only one meal day - pancakes - because that's all he could afford.

Indiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Atterholt recalled first meeting Rooney in Washington, D.C. Atterholt was then a young congressional staff member, and Rooney was lobbying for health savings accounts.

"I remember being awed by his revolutionary ideas," Atterholt wrote in an e-mail. "Pat was a giant in the insurance industry and he was a giant of a good person."

Rooney built Golden Rule into a powerhouse in the individual insurance business. And then he built a reputation as a generous giver, Sullivan said.

He was particularly generous in his political giving, doling out large sums to Washington lawmakers. He became particularly well known among conservative Congressional Republicans in Washington as he pushed them to allow and then give tax breaks for health savings accounts.

But the "conservative" label fit Rooney a bit awkwardly. For 25 years, Rooney, who was white, attended a black Catholic church called Holy Angels. He was for a time a contributor to the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. He was a vegetarian who avoided products that require the killing of animals; that's why he wore plastic shoes.

In 1991, Rooney started The Educational CHOICE Charitable Trust, which provides tuition assistance for inner-city students from lower-income families in Indianapolis whose parents want them to attend a private school.

Rooney retired as chairman of Golden Rule in 1996; seven years later, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group acquired Golden Rule for $500 million in cash.

In 1998, Rooney founded the Fairness Foundation, which advocates for uninsured hospital patients who claim they have been charged or pursued for payments beyond their means.

In March, Rooney cited his faith as his motivator for his work, particularly his efforts on school vouchers and the uninsured.

"The reason for the activity is entirely spiritual," Rooney wrote in an e-mail. "When I die, I would like God to welcome me."

For more on Rooney, click here.

Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. From the story: "The city of Indianapolis also will consider tax incentives and funding for infrastructure required for the project, according to IEDC." Why would the City need to consider additional tax incentives when Lowe's has already bought the land and reached an agreement with IEDC to bring the jobs? What that tells me is that the City has already pledged the incentives, unofficially, and they just haven't had time to push it through the MDC yet. Either way, subsidizing $10/hour jobs is going to do nothing toward furthering the Mayor's stated goal of attracting middle and upper-middle class residents to Marion County.

  2. Ron Spencer and the entire staff of Theater on the Square embraced IndyFringe when it came to Mass Ave in 2005. TOTS was not only a venue but Ron and his friends created, presented and appeared in shows which embraced the 'spirit of the fringe'. He's weathered all the storms and kept smiling ... bon voyage and thank you.

  3. Not sure how many sushi restaurants are enough, but there are three that I know of in various parts of downtown proper and all are pretty good.

  4. First off, it's "moron," not "moran." 2nd, YOU don't get to vote on someone else's rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the US Constitution. That's why this is not a state's rights issue...putting something like this to vote by, well, people like you who are quite clearly intellectually challenged isn't necessary since the 14th amendment has already decided the issue. Which is why Indiana's effort is a wasted one and a waste of money...and will be overturned just like this has in every other state.

  5. Rick, how does granting theright to marry to people choosing to marry same-sex partners harm the lives of those who choose not to? I cannot for the life of me see any harm to people who choose not to marry someone of the same sex. We understand your choice to take the parts of the bible literally in your life. That is fine but why force your religious beliefs on others? I'm hoping the judges do the right thing and declare the ban unconstitutional so all citizens of Wisconsin and Indiana have the same marriage rights and that those who chose someone of the same sex do not have less rights than others.