Phil Bredesen has combined both private and public health care experience and expertise in an unusual and highly-effective way.
He began in the private sector, where he is best known as an entrepreneur who started an HMO company—HealthAmerica—in 1980. Over the next six years he took it from a concept worked out at his kitchen table to a respected national public company with 6,000 employees, listed on the New York Stock Exchange. After the sale of HealthAmerica, he was a co-founder and the first Chairman of Coventry Corporation, now a part of Aetna, and the founder and Chairman for many years of Qualifacts, an innovative and successful mental health IT company still located in Nashville.
Bredesen then entered the public sector, serving as Mayor of Nashville from 1991 to 1999 and being elected Governor in 2002. He was sworn in as Governor at a time when Tennessee’s Medicaid system—TennCare—was in deep financial and operational trouble. A decade before, Tennessee had dramatically expanded its Medicaid system to cover Tennesseans who didn’t qualify for the federal low-income Medicaid program, but who could not obtain private health insurance either because of its cost or because they had pre-existing conditions. Due to flaws in the design and implementation of TennCare, the program’s costs had spun out of control. The annual growth in TennCare spending was passing the total annual growth in Tennessee’s tax revenues, threatening to force involuntary cuts in other priorities such as public education and safety.
Bredesen brought his private sector experience in management and health care to bear. TennCare was redesigned from the ground up, costs—especially the cost of drugs—were brought under control, and the program was disentangled from the federal courts. TennCare became a model managed-care Medicaid program that has been widely studied and copied by other states. Independent measures of its quality of patient care improved dramatically and its costs have remained well under control.
Bredesen is also known for several other innovative health care initiatives during his time as Governor. Some were new state programs: CoverTN provided insurance to working adults, AccessTN helped those with pre-existing conditions and CoverKids protected uninsured children. Others were public health focused: the Meth-Free Tennessee Act took a multi-pronged approach to combating methamphetamine manufacture and abuse, and he led a highly successful approach to reducing the infant death rate in Memphis.
Bredesen grew up with his grandmother and single-parent mother in a rural village in upstate New York. He graduated with a degree in physics from Harvard University in 1967. After their marriage in the UK, he and his wife Andrea Conte moved to Tennessee in 1975 when she was offered a job at HCA. In addition to his public and private sector successes, he founded the non-profits Nashville’s Table, now a part of Second Harvest, and The Land Trust for Tennessee. He is the author of a book offering a vision for the future of America’s health care system, “Fresh Medicine”. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013 and currently serves on their Board of Trust. He and Andrea have a son Ben, a daughter-in-law Dru, and two grandchildren. All love Tennessee.