Opinion piece found in the Quad City Times

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Wellmark: Great name for an insurer, not a college
By the Quad-City Times | Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Local boy makes good. That’s the story of Henry B. Tippie, the Belle Plaine native who turned his University of Iowa accounting degree into a international business success story. Tippie’s name now is on the university’s school of business, a generous honor bestowed for his leadership and $30 million he committed to the school.

Tippie is a focused, no-nonsense business leader whose life reflects lessons taught in the school now bearing his name. “There is a direct relationship between effort expended and reward received,” Tippie is quoted in his Horatio Alger Association profile.

True enough.

Now the University of Iowa is considering renaming another school, its college of public health, to honor another benefactor. Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield initially bid $15 million for the naming rights of the University’s College of Public Health. Last week, college faculty voted against the bid. This week, a faculty committee is reconsidering.

Even professors’ heads turn at $15 million.

To paraphrase Mr. Tippie, we wonder if the “effort expended” by Wellmark would earn the “reward received.”

Tippie earned his honor with a career that modeled the best aspects of his Iowa business education. The son of an Iowa dairy farmer joined a Delaware family company and helped transform it to a multi-national firm with interests in media, trucking, autosports and gaming. Along the way, he generously remembered his hometown, community college and university with seven-figure gifts. In 1999, the university renamed its business college in his name.

Wellmark enjoys a strong reputation as Iowa’s largest insurer with 1.7 million health customers. Wellmark’s corporate mission reflects a passion for affordable “health insurance products” that are “high-quality” and “cost competitive.”

All very admirable.

But that’s not the college’s mission. The college aims to produce medical professionals with “devotion to public health practice.” That’s quite different from devotion to cost-competitiveness. Besides, Wellmark still engages in a contractual relationship with the university. The university negotiates for the most “cost-competitive” Wellmark benefits for its patients, medical staff and employees. The perception of that relationship changes forever when the hospital assumes the name of its vendor.

Even overlooking those conflicts, we’ll recall Henry Tippie’s maxim and conclude that Wellmark’s bid simply doesn’t stack up. Last year, the company added $106 million to its “unallocated surplus,” pushing that fund over the $1 billion mark. The $15 million offer represents just over 1 percent of that surplus.

And it’s half of what Tippie committed before the university renamed the business college in his honor.

The University of Iowa enjoys deep support from benefactors who have demonstrated many ways of contributing to the university’s mission without compromising mission. Encourage Wellmark to endow a chair or construct a building or create named scholarships. But hold off renaming an entire medical college, especially when the bid just doesn’t rise to Mr. Tippie’s lofty standards.

Mission statements

University of Iowa College of Public Health: To promote health and prevent injury and illness through commitment

to education and training, excellence in research, innovation in policy development, and devotion to public health

practice.

Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield: To

provide a broad array of high quality, accessible, affordable, and cost-competitive health insurance products and services.