Assistant TennCare Commissioner Scott Pierce's last day in state government is Friday. Pierce is also chief financial officer for the program, which serves low-income pregnant women, children and some disabled and elderly Tennesseans.
On Oct. 3, Pierce will become president and CEO of BlueCross's Volunteer State Health Plan, which runs the BlueCare and TennCare Select lines of coverage, BlueCross spokeswoman Mary Danielson said.
"Scott's hiring is nothing more than a sign of the respect and admiration we have developed for his talents and intellect," Danielson said in an email Friday. "We look forward to bringing him on board and applying his skills to bear on serving our members and the state."
Darin Gordon, deputy state finance commissioner and TennCare Bureau director, said Pierce told him Aug. 19 he was moving to BlueCross. The nonprofit insurer provides coverage to some 450,000 of TennCare's 1.2 million enrollees.
He said Pierce immediately recused himself from all matters regarding BlueCross and other managed care organizations, "basically removing himself from any intersection with the business lines that related to TennCare."
Those functions were taken over by assistant Chief Financial Officer Casey Dungan.
Gordon said 59 percent of the $8.9 billion TennCare program involves managed care. Pierce moved his focus to elements in the remaining 41 percent, he said.
Those functions include pharmacy, long-term care, intellectually disabled children, children under custody of the Department of Children's Services and wrangling with federal budget caps.
The news of the move initially raised eyebrows. State Rep. Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga, a registered nurse and former health care administrator, said it would have been a conflict if Pierce had kept control over MCO contractual issues and reimbursements.
But "if he's not directly overseeing the MCOs, I don't think it could be a conflict," she said.
Favors said the health care industry, particularly insurers, frequently seeks to hire experienced government officials. Pierce currently is paid $150,000 a year, according to a database of state employees.
"First, the salary [in the private sector] is so much better, and secondly, so many of the programs tested as government programs, if the public accepts them, then they are implemented in private industry," Favors said.
Tennessee Common Cause Chairman Dick Williams said the "revolving door" between government and the private sector is nothing new.
"I don't know if there's anything terribly wrong with that," Williams said. "I think the public deserves to know that and sort of see if there's anything funny or anything done previously to help BlueCross."
After listening to a description of the steps Gordon and Pierce took, Williams said, "It sounds like they handled it appropriately."
An effort to reach Pierce through a TennCare spokeswoman was unsuccessful.
TennCare, created in 1994 through a federal waiver, was plagued for years by high turnover in its management ranks. But the agency's top management has been relatively stable for about nine years, Gordon said. Pierce has been chief financial officer for five years.
Senate Speaker pro tem Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said Pierce has been "really good at what he did. He knows the numbers. He knows how the system operates."