Wellmark Withdraws Offer of $15 Million Donation to University of Iowa

Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield has withdrawn its offer of a $15 million donation to the University of Iowa after school faculty rejected a proposal to rename its health college after Wellmark.

Wellmark, the state’s largest health insurance company, was interested in stamping its name on the university’s College of Public Health. However, faculty members overwhelmingly rebuffed the idea Thursday, saying that naming the college after an insurance company could present a conflict of interest.

The proposal would have made the university one of the first in the nation to rename a major academic unit after a corporation.

“We are not prepared to allow the college to be named after a commercial enterprise,” said James Merchant, public health dean.

Merchant said he received a letter Friday from Wellmark CEO John Forsyth withdrawing the $15 million gift.

In the letter, Forsyth said the offer would remain withdrawn “unless and until there is unwavering support” from the college and university to pursue the money.

Merchant said the donation would have virtually met the college’s fundraising goals and helped fund a new $40 million public health building. The university still plans to start constructing the building this fall, relying on $20.7 million from the state and $18 million from the school.

Gov. Chet Culver, college faculty and state regents raised concerns last week about renaming the college if Wellmark donated money to the school.

Regent Robert Downer said there could be a possible conflict of interest because of contractual relationships between the university and Wellmark. Wellmark is a major payer to the University of Iowa Hospitals and administers insurance plans for all the state’s public universities.

After faculty rejected Wellmark’s proposal, Merchant said he hoped Wellmark may still consider donating if the company were allowed to rename the college after someone of its choice. Merchant later said the Wellmark Foundation did not approve of the idea.

“Could there be a change of heart? Could there be other forms or other gifts? Absolutely,” Merchant said. “We’ve enjoyed a very cordial relationship with Wellmark.”