Former Director of Medicaid hired by University of Vermont Health Network
For the past four years, Cory Gustafson has overseen the state’s Medicaid program, which provides funds to doctors and healthcare facilities. Now he has taken a job with Vermont’s largest healthcare organization.
Gustafson, whose last day as commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access was May 28, started June 1 at the University of Vermont Health Network as network director of strategic and business planning. In his new role, he will develop “long-term investment plans and strategies” for the organization, which serves about half of the state’s patients, according to spokesperson Neal Goswami.
Gustafson said the shift from state government to an entity dependent on state funding does not represent a conflict of interest as it will focus on “internal” issues such as business planning, planning capital investment and increased efficiency at the six network hospitals in Vermont and New York. The role allows him to abide by ethical rules that prohibit lobbying for a year after leaving state government, he said.
“This being an internal position, I don’t see it as a problem,” he said of potential ethical conflicts. When he decided to leave state government, he said, he only looked for jobs “that wouldn’t break” the rules.
Goswami said Gustafson’s responsibilities “will not involve representing the network before the State of Vermont, or any other public and regulatory body.” The spokesperson for the network highlighted Gustafson’s “extensive experience and knowledge in healthcare” and said the new employee was “committed to following all state policies.”
This is not the first time that the hospital has recruited former officials from the Social Services Agency. In 2019, the Health Network hired Al Gobeille, former chief health regulator of the Green Mountain Care Board and former secretary of social services, as executive vice president of operations.
Prior to joining state government, Gustafson represented the healthcare industry before the legislative and executive branches. From 2011 to 2013, he worked as a lobbyist for the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems. After that he lobbied on behalf of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont.
Governor Phil Scott appointed him commissioner in January 2017.
As head of the Department of Vermont Health Access, he was responsible for managing the state’s Medicaid program, which provides health insurance to low-income Vermonters – and pays hospitals for those services. The department also manages the state health insurance stock exchange.
Most of the department’s day-to-day interactions with UVM Health Network were conducted by subordinates, Gustafson said. However, he worked with the network on its role in the all-payer model, the state’s effort to change the way health care is funded. The Vermont Medicaid program is participating.
When it came to speaking with his future employer, “I’ve had conversations about health care reform, but that’s about the extent of it,” Gustafson said. He recused himself from those conversations after applying for the job, he said.
A large hospital’s interest in hiring a well-connected government official makes sense – and often pays off, according to Mike Fisher, Vermont’s leading healthcare advocate. Fisher said he was speaking generally and not specifically about Gustafson’s or Gobeille’s employment.
“Even if you have to wait a year, you’ve got a person who really knows the ropes and has the connections,” Fisher said.
Yet, he said, “there is a problem” with “the general flow of state government to an entity regulated by state government.”
“There is a concern about the integrity of the post,” Fisher said.
As a cabinet member, Gustafson said, he signed the management code of ethics which prohibits civil servants from lobbying for one year after leaving their post. He said he did not intend to play a lobbyist role even after the deadline expired.
But, he added, “Who knows what the future holds?”
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