Skip to main content

McNerney, Walter J.



  • Existence: 1925 - 2005
  • Usage: 1925-06-08 - 2005-07-29


Walter J. McNerney was born on June 8, 1925, in New Haven, CT. During his college years, Mr. McNerney served a two-year term in the U.S. Navy. He graduated from Yale University in 1947 with a degree in industrial administration. He completed one year of post-graduate work in economics before attending the University of Minnesota, where he earned a master’s degree in hospital administration in 1950.

Mr. McNerney’s career in the health care field began with an administrative residency at Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, RI, in 1949. Following the year of the residency, he was offered a position at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA. His role was a combination of administrator, coordinator, and educator: administering one of the hospitals in the medical center; serving as assistant coordinator of the clinics and hospitals of the medical center; and helping to start a program in hospital administration and serving on the faculty of the university’s School of Public Health.

In 1955, Mr. McNerney was invited to join the staff of the University of Michigan to establish a program in hospital administration in the school of business. He felt strongly that any program in health administration should run on three mutually reinforcing tracks: education, research, and community service. While in Michigan, he gained recognition on a national level when he directed a major study detailing the availability, use, quality, finance, and politics of health care across the state. The research was later published by the Hospital Research and Educational Trust.

Mr. McNerney became president of the Blue Cross Association (BCA) in 1961. BCA joined with the American Hospital Association (AHA) in the national debate over financing health care for the aged and low-income groups in the early 1960s. Mr. McNerney was a central player in Congressional hearings and bargaining sessions before and after the enactment of legislation that created the Medicare and Medicaid programs in 1965. During the Nixon administration, Mr. McNerney chaired a blue-ribbon task force that called for sweeping changes in the Medicaid program.

When the Blue Cross Association merged with the Blue Shield Association in 1977, Mr. McNerney became president and chief executive officer of the combined Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCBSA). In the late 1970s, BCBSA participated in the Voluntary Effort, a private sector initiative that brought together hospitals, physicians, and insurance plans around a common interest in cost containment.

Following his retirement from BCBSA in 1981, Mr. McNerney became a professor of health care policy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He remained an active leader in the field, serving as a consultant and on numerous commissions and boards. In 1986, he chaired the committee that produced a landmark report for the Institute of Medicine on the impact of for-profit enterprise in health care.

Mr. McNerney passed away on July 29, 2005. He was survived by his wife, Shirley Ann (nèe Hamilton), four sons, one daughter, and 22 grandchildren.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Walter J. McNerney Papers

Identifier: 12/1/16

The papers of Walter J. McNerney include correspondence, articles, speeches, photographs, reports, publications, and other documents, dealing with all aspects of the delivery of health care.

Dates: 1934 - 1997