John Wagner has professional and personal reasons why he has become
one of the area's most outspoken advocates for employing people with
Professionally Wagner is not only the director for product solutions
management with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, he is also the
president of the First Coast Business Leadership Network, an
employer-to-employer group promoting employment of people with
disabilities. His employer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, is
the lead firm for the organization.
Wagner's aunt, Linda, was born with Down's syndrome. He has
witnessed how people with disabilities can lead productive lives
benefiting their families and their communities. The personal
experience prompted Wagner to take the lead in forming the professional
As a UNF graduate with a bachelor's degree in business management
and a master's degree in health administration, Wagner is able to see
both sides of the disability issue. Hiring persons with disabilities
makes business sense, he said, because U.S. employers will face a
shortage of 10 million workers by 2010. One in five Floridians has a
disability; that's more than three million people. This translates into
a large available labor pool with an employment rate of only 35
percent. The employment rate is the same whether or not the person with
a disability has a college degree.
From a health care perspective, employing workers with disabilities
allows them to lead productive lives, thereby reducing the demand on
medical and social services. "Linda taught me the importance of
advocacy and my mom taught me the importance of not stopping at
advocacy but driving for change," he says.
Wagner acknowledges his health perspective is possible because of
UNF's program in health administration, which he describes as
life-changing. After getting his bachelor's degree, he listened to some
advice from friends who predicted the health care field was "really
going to take off." While he had business management training, he
lacked health care experience. "I was a traditional college student but
most of those in the program already were into their health care
careers," he recalled.
To make up for the deficit, Wagner accepted an internship at St.
Luke's Hospital, where he was mentored by fellow classmate Barbara
Tidwell. "It was a wonderful experience at St. Luke's. She (Tidwell)
was a great mentor who taught me many things about health care
leadership and management."
In 1992, Wagner accepted a position with Blue Cross and Blue Shield
of Florida and has progressed through a series of positions in provider
operations, network management, Medicare, health care strategy and more
The changing positions have allowed Wagner to see dramatic changes
in health care, and especially the increasing popularity of health
savings accounts with their higher deductibles. "With HSAs we see more
consumer interest in buying health care the way we buy a TV or a car,"
he said. "People want to know where they can get the better deals."
More than 1.1 million of BCBS of Florida's 4.2 million subscribers now
have deductibles of $500 or more.
These types of real market trends are what Wagner was able to
communicate to students in UNF's health administration program as a
part-time instructor for about three years. Wagner plans to pick up
teaching again in the future, because he enjoys maintaining contact
with UNF and has been involved in recruiting more than two-dozen
interns since joining BCBSF.
He still praises UNF for the network of friends he established as a
student, and stays in touch with many them. He was instrumental in
establishing Lambda Chi Alpha, UNF's first male fraternity, and playing
a significant role in promoting the Greek system on campus.
"It was a great time to be at UNF. It was in its infancy as a
four-year institution and provided me with a wonderful opportunity to
affect change and make great friends." Wagner considers coming to UNF
one of the best decisions of his life.
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