Champion of Consumer Empowerment Dies at Age 80

Published December 1, 2008

Proponents of consumer-directed health care lost a giant when J. Patrick Rooney, former chairman of Golden Rule Insurance Co., passed away on September 15 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He was 80 years old.

More than anyone else, Rooney was responsible for moving the national political agenda in favor of consumer-driven health care, first by working with Rep. Andy Jacobs (D-IN), chairman of the Health Subcommittee of the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means, and then with Bill Archer (R-TX), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee after the Republican revolution of 1994, to get Medical Savings Accounts enacted into law in 1996.

Rooney continued to work for consumer empowerment until his death. He helped get health savings accounts enacted for the first time in history in 2003 and spent his later years working for fair hospital pricing for self-pay patients, through his Fairness Foundation. His first and only book, America’s Health Care Crisis Solved, was published in May of this year.

Opponents of health care consumer empowerment used Rooney as a whipping boy, with Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) calling him “that crazy old man in Indianapolis,” but Rooney was resolute, and not just on health care. Among other issues, Rooney was one of the preeminent backers of school vouchers for poor children and helped create private scholarship programs for inner-city kids around the country. He invested years of his time challenging racial bias in educational testing.

Rooney was chairman of Golden Rule Insurance Company and built it into one of the largest providers of individual health insurance in the United States. The company was family-owned and very profitable, but Rooney always remained very down-to-earth. His office at the company was no more elaborate than any of the managers’.

The company was often criticized for its strict underwriting, but that is what made it possible to offer affordable coverage to so many people. For a time it was also criticized for being slow to pay claims. In his usual hands-on style, Rooney took that criticism seriously and worked diligently to fix the problem. He kept a white board in his office showing daily reports on claims turn-around time.

Rooney retired in 1996 and sold Golden Rule to United Healthcare in 2003, but his life-long commitment to providing health insurance could not be squelched and he started a new company, Medical Savings Insurance, to offer nothing but HSA-qualified programs.

I am grateful that we at Consumers for Health Care Choices were able to give this champion of freedom a small smidgeon of the recognition he deserved by presenting him with our Lifetime Achievement Award in December 2006. It was the least we could do for this giant of our movement.


Greg Scandlen ([email protected]) is director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at The Heartland Institute.

For more information …

“Lifetime Achievement Award: Patrick Rooney,” March 5, 2007:

Fairness Foundation, Inc.: