MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott announced Friday that he has appointed former state lawmaker and public finance official Tom Pelham to the Green Mountain Care Board, filling a position vacated by Con Hogan in September.
The board, which oversees and regulates the health care system in Vermont, has a mission to reduce health care costs while ensuring high quality care for Vermonters. Pelham, of Berlin, brings to the job more than 16 years of budgeting and financial management experience developed from his various past roles in state government.
Pelham, 67, served as deputy secretary of the Agency of Administration and also as tax commissioner under former Gov. Jim Douglas. During the Gov. Howard Dean administration in the 1990s, he served as commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management. He also was commissioner of Housing and Community Affairs for governors Madeleine Kunin and Richard Snelling.
“I want to first thank Con for his service to the Green Mountain Care Board, and his work as a public servant for nearly six decades,” Scott said in a statement. “Given the institutional memory Con brought to the Board, appointing someone with a comparable background and historic knowledge of government, finance and our health care system is important. Tom is an accomplished public official and his background and experience will serve the Board and the people of Vermont well.”
In an interview with True North, Pelham said he was excited about the opportunity to serve in state government again.
“I look forward to bringing my my knowledge of state government to the board, which is a role on the board that Con Hogan understood because he was secretary of administration for many years,” Pelham said.
“I have a pretty good handle on state finances and healthcare is a huge portion of the state budget,” he added.
Vermont has some of the highest health care costs per capita in the nation. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, Vermont in 2014 ranked 5th in the nation at $10,190.
Pelham said one place to look for clues on how to remedy this situation is to look to Vermont’s neighbors, particularly New Hampshire.
“If we spent what New Hampshire spends, which is $9,589 — slightly below ours — but if we spent that per capita we’d be $375 million less. So there’s a lot of leverage here on the financial side,” he said.
Rob Roper, president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a free-market think tank, says the mission of the Green Mountain Care Board has been unclear since Gov. Peter Shumlin failed to push through a single-payer health care plan in 2014.
“You have to question at this point the role of the Green Mountain Care Board,” Roper said. “It was put into place to sort of bring Peter Shumlin’s single-payer healthcare system in, and that program is dead, so why we even have a Green Mountain Care Board still is beyond me.”
Pelham acknowledged that the board’s purpose has changed since it was formed out of Act 48.
“It’s probably a little outdated given the events that have unfolded since its passage in 2011 and 2012,” he said. “The Green Mountain Care Board was just part of a larger kind of matrix that, in the end, the Shumlin folks just couldn’t put together.”
Asked what’s first on his to-do list for the board, Pelham said it’s essentially getting a feel for how it operates.
“The first thing I want to do is to understand the infrastructure and capacity of [the board],” he said. “What kind of data do they have available? What resources do they have that can support good decision making?” he said.
Roper said Pelham is a good choice for the position.
“He’s very data-oriented, he’s got a lot of sense, and he’s got a lot of respect in Montpelier on both sides of the aisle,” Roper said.