John Wagner
John Wagner
UNF Degree: BBA – ’90; MHA – ’94
Employment: Director for Product Solutions Management, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida

Wagner leads drive to hire workers with disabilities

 John Wagner has professional and personal reasons why he has become one of the area's most outspoken advocates for employing people with disabilities.

 

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 organization.

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 recently marketing.

 

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.