Darin Gordon is the former director of TennCare and draws on more than 20 years of experience in public health care finance, policy and operations to advise government agencies, payers, providers, investors and top 10 consulting firms. He currently works with C-level clients across the country providing solutions to complex health care issues.
What inspired you to go into healthcare? Tell us about your career journey.
My journey has been a series of responding to “asks.” Simply put, saying “yes” to unanticipated opportunities has led me to where I am today. In fact, healthcare was not my original career goal; my first goal was the one I decided when I was in the fifth grade. That was the year I realized I wanted to do something that would have a meaningful impact and would help others. I was convinced I would become a lawyer.
Thankfully, life has a funny way of presenting you with the opportunity to take different paths – some that end up being a far better fit than the path you originally intended. While in college, still pursuing my aspiration of becoming a lawyer, an advisor suggested that I apply for a competitive internship in the state legislature. I was assigned to the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee and learned a great deal about state programs and funding – and the significant impact one could have in public service. Following the internship, I was asked to continue as a research analyst for the committee and I accepted. Serving in that position introduced me to the variety of the major issues facing the state. More importantly, I began to learn the difficulty of balancing many important competing needs with the limited resources available to meet those needs.
After some time, the Governor’s Budget Director asked me to come work in the Budget Office. When we spoke about this new role, I asked him what he believed was the biggest challenge within state government. Without hesitation, he said it was TennCare — the state’s multi-billion-dollar Medicaid agency. I felt it was a space where I could have a meaningful impact, so I accepted the challenge.
While in the Governor’s Budget Office, I was asked to serve in a new position at the Office of Health Services, where I worked until I was asked to step into a leadership position within the TennCare program and oversee the managed care organizations that TennCare used to provide services to its Medicaid population and then later was asked to serve as TennCare’s CFO.
I feel it is worth mentioning at this point that my interest in healthcare in general, and Medicaid in particular, was not only professional, but personal as well. While I was in college, we had our first child, and due to a variety of circumstances that resulted in the pregnancy being considered a pre-existing condition from an insurance perspective, Medicaid covered the delivery. So, I considered it a blessing that I have had the opportunity to serve the very same organization that helped Shawn and I bring our first child into the world. Approximately 15 years after the birth of our son, I was asked to become the CEO and Director of TennCare and in the ten years that I served in that role, I was fortunate to lead many statewide healthcare initiatives that have not only been impactful in Tennessee, but have also become national models that have been replicated in other states. Ever since, I have been working to find ways to improve and innovate in and around the Medicaid program throughout the country.
What problem do you most want to solve in healthcare?
I do not think there is a “single” problem to solve in healthcare – and that is part of what keeps me engaged and interested. If I were to look at what issues have been occupying most of my headspace as of late, there would be in three primary areas: (1) advancing innovative value-based payment programs; (2) improving services for those receiving long term services and supports; and (3) furthering the advancement of integration for Medicare & Medicaid Dual eligibles. While these are discrete areas within the healthcare system with their own set of challenges and opportunities, there is significant overlap as well.
What are you focused on now?
I wear many different hats. Most of my time is spent working with government agencies, payers, providers, and foundations to develop new solutions, advance innovations and make improvements in the Medicaid space. I also serve as a member of the Cressey & Company Distinguished Executives Council and am on the Board of Directors for Addus Homecare, Upperline Health, Advanced Care Partners, PPL, HHA Exchange and NASHP (National Academy for State Health Policy). Additionally, I am a member of the Duke-Margolis/West Health State Payment Reform Advisory Board, and a member of the MITRE Health Advisory Council. I also am a Commissioner for the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission – a federal commission that advises the White House, Congress, and States on Medicaid policy. So, I have continual contact with Medicaid and healthcare in many ways – all with the intent of advancing innovations that improve the Medicaid program’s policies and operations.
How did the Fellows program influence your life or career?
What I loved about the Fellows class was that it forced me to look up and outside of my day-to-day challenges. It provided the opportunity to sit in a room with an incredible bunch of individuals from all different aspects of the healthcare world and hear about their experiences, their perspectives, and their ideas on potential solutions for the healthcare system. The experience really challenged me and refined my thinking, and, in the end, influenced some of the policies that we ended up pursuing while I was at the state. So, the Fellows program opened my eyes, gave me different perspectives, and ultimately made me a more informed, better-prepared healthcare leader in the sphere that I worked in. To anyone who may have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Commissioner Mark Emkes, Commissioner of Finance & Administration in Governor Haslam’s Administration taught me the famous Maya Angelou quote, “People may forget what you did. But they’ll never forget how you made them feel.”
Also, Governor Phil Bredesen once gave me this advice: “When you look back at your life, what is that one thing you will regret that you did not do? Spend your time doing that.”