Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York
Residence: Cooper City
Current position: South Florida market president, Florida Blue
Previous positions: South Florida market CEO, Kindred Health; management positions with Sunshine Health, Amerigroup, ATI College of Health and Baptist Health South Florida
Boards/organizations: Chairman, South Florida Hospital and Health Association; board, American Lung Associations of Broward and Palm Beach; YMCA South Florida
Education: B.S., University of Phoenix; MBA, Nova Southeastern University
David Wagner spent decades leading health care providers in South Florida, but now he’s on the health insurance side of the table as South Florida market president of Florida Blue.
Named to the Doral-based post in December 2021, Wagner oversees an eight-county region from the Keys through the Treasure Coast with more than 600 employees that serve about 800,000 members.
Before that, he worked for Baptist Health South Florida for 10 years, HCA for 13 years and was the South Florida CEO for Kindred Health.
When did you move to Florida? In 1970. I was 4 years old. My dad wanted to open Carvel ice cream stores and couldn’t afford to do that in New York. He always loved South Florida, and we moved to Oleta in the North Miami Beach area and opened a Carvel store in North Miami Beach. We used to get Carvel ice cream every Friday night. It was a family tradition.
What was your favorite place to hang out growing up? The Haulover Beach and Pier and Sunshine Skateway, which is where I met my wife. That was in North Miami Beach on Ives Dairy Road.
What was your first job? Working for my dad at Carvel. I got paid $1.50 an hour, and I got all the worst jobs. My dad always wanted to make an example of me. Mop the floors, take out the garbage, break down the big ice machines at the end of the day. I loved spending time with my dad and my family as I worked my way through school.
Why did you get into the health care field? My dad was a four-pack-a-day smoker and smoked at the dinner table. I couldn’t stand the smell of the smoke. He developed lung cancer when I was 18. I couldn’t go away for college; I went to Broward College and signed up for the respiratory therapy program. My dad said the two safest places are either working for the government or working in health care because they are recession-proof. I love helping and serving people. My first job in health care was in 1988 at Holy Cross Hospital for $8.50 an hour, no benefits. I felt like I had won the lottery because that was a lot more than dad was paying me.
What was the biggest difference going from a health care provider to a health insurance company? At the health care provider, you are closer to the bedsides and you are seeing patients when they are sick, and you are supporting families and patients in a very stressful time. On the payor side, it allows you to get ahead of it and support people and communities and promote healthier lifestyles. We can do programs to keep people healthy and keep people from getting obese.
Since you manage a large region, do you travel a lot, or are virtual meetings still OK? It’s about 50/50. We are transitioning now at Florida Blue; we are not mandating that all people come to the office. I will travel to Jacksonville [the headquarters] to have meetings once or twice a month, and travel in my region once or twice a week. So much is lost when it’s over a screen or on a phone. The human value of being in a room together is immeasurable. I’m a people person and a social butterfly, and I love to be in a room with people.
Why are individual health plans growing so much in Florida? You have a lot of folks going to work for themselves as independent contractors or service workers, people working from home with a web-based company. They want to buy their own insurance. With some of those plans, you are paying zero premium based on your income. I don’t think we will ever get away from the employer model. We still have companies like Publix and FPL that employ thousands of people.
What is the biggest challenge for health insurance plans going forward? The cost of care and inflation. How do we best use technology to increase our efficiency? Can we have folks see doctors on their phones using an app? Can we help young people with mental health and depression and other ailments on the app? Thirdly, the shortages of health care employees. I asked FIU [Florida International University] how many nurses they were putting out. They said, “300,” and I said, “Let’s make it 3,000.”
What is your favorite golf course in South Florida? Lago Mar Country Club in Plantation. It’s my daughter’s favorite course, and she gets lessons there. It’s a nice place to go with my family, play a few holes and have lunch. And I can afford it.
– Brian Bandell
Florida Blue's David Wagner on the journey from Carvel to health care – South Florida Business Journal – The Business Journals