Walter J. McNerney, 80; Blue Cross Chief Helped Shape Healthcare Policy
Walter J. McNerney, 80, who oversaw the integration of Blue Cross and Blue Shield and shaped the debate that led to the adoption and implementation of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, died July 29 at his home in Winnetka, Ill.
His death was announced by Northwestern University, from which he retired in 1999 as a professor emeritus of health policy in the graduate business school. The cause of death was not released.
The experienced hospital administrator and native of New Haven, Conn., became president of Blue Cross in 1961. He promptly joined the American Hospital Assn. in calling for a nationwide single-payer benefit plan for older Americans. At the time, even the basic concept faced strong political opposition.
Because the Blue Cross system had the strongest voice in health insurance, McNerney’s lobbying carried extra weight in congressional hearings and in bargaining sessions at which he urged leaders to assume healthcare costs for the elderly.
Of his role as a healthcare power broker during the time of President Johnson’s push for domestic programs, McNerney once said: “I was young enough to not know my limitations.”