To mark the launch of WhiteHouse.gov/Hispanic, we'll be featuring interviews with Obama Administration staff whose work impacts the Hispanic and Latino communities. This first interview is with Mayra Alvarez, from the Department of Health and Human Services.
1) What is your key responsibility?
I am the Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In my position, I coordinate with various operating and staff divisions in HHS to make sure we’re implementing the public health, prevention, and healthcare workforce policy provisions in the Affordable Care Act in an effective and timely manner. In addition, I have the great opportunity to be out in the community and participate in many Affordable Care Act outreach related activities, and in particular our effort to ensure the Latino community is engaged.
2) Where did you grow up?
I grew up in El Cajon, a city in the East Valley of San Diego County, California. Though I was born in the border town of El Centro, California, my family moved to El Cajon when I was four years old, and it’s the city I still consider “home.”
3) What is your educational background?
I went to public school for elementary, middle, and high school. El Cajon has a great public school system and I was fortunate to have the guidance of great teachers and mentors. At the age of 18, I left the perfect San Diego County weather and ventured north to attend the University of California at Berkeley. At Cal, I majored in Social Welfare and Chicano Studies and took coursework in public health. In those courses, I learned the mission of public health is to improve the health of communities. The desire to make a real difference in the health of our communities lead me to apply to various schools of public health, and I was fortunate to have been accepted to the nationally recognized School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC-CH, I earned my Master of Healthcare Administration and decided to engage in a career in health policy. I came to DC through the David A. Winston Health Policy Fellowship. Through policy, I am able to impact the health of our nation, a community that encompasses us all.
4) Are you a member of a notable community organizations, church, or volunteer/mentorship program?
I am a big believer in the idea that no one gets to where they’re going alone. I have been fortunate to have strong, inspiring individuals in my life that help guide my professional decisions and provide a support system we all need to lead healthy lives. I only hope I can one day do the same for someone else. As such, I welcome opportunities to work with individuals interested in health policy and have been involved with the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association and participated in events with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, amongst others. Most recently, I served as part of the Advisory Board for the 25th Reunion of the University of Michigan Summer Enrichment Program, a program that seeks to increase the number of undergraduate students interested in the goal of eliminating racial, ethnic and socioeconomic health disparities. It is the program that inspired me to begin a career in health policy.
5) During the State of the Union, the President laid out his vision for "Winning the Future" through Education, Building, Innovation, Responsibility, and Reform. How does your role in the Administration help to advance the President's agenda?
I consider myself incredibly fortunate to work in a field of policy where education, infrastructure, innovation, responsibility and reform all currently intersect. I spend my days working with the teams here at HHS and at the White House to implement the Affordable Care Act, specifically focusing on weaving sound public health policy into the work being done in communities around the country. The other vital part of my role here is to help inform Americans of the increased power they now have to keep themselves and their families healthy. Public health is vital to the health of our communities. It is about the policies we enact, the resources we make available to those in greatest need, the support we give to our families, and the lives we lead.
The Obama administration believes that everyone should have the opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to the nation’s strength, and be a part of the public good. Yet it is difficult for a student to pay attention in class when they can’t see the chalkboard or a parent to work a fifty hour week when they’re living with an untreated chronic disease. Health is connected to every part of our lives. Our work at HHS is dedicated to protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. Through research, food and drug safety, funding innovative ideas, and making sure health insurance companies are held accountable to the people we in government are here to serve, I am proud to be part of a team at HHS that is helping to make sure all Americans have an opportunity to live their lives to the fullest.
With the Affordable Care Act, we’re giving Americans more freedom and control over their health care choices, and for the first time in history, we will ensure all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care. We will win the future by strengthening our health care system and by focusing on patients’ needs, better quality, and access to safer, more affordable care.
6) How does your work impact the Hispanic community?
Today, one in three Latinos does not have health insurance. One in two does not have access to a consistent doctor that they can consider their medical home. As a result, many Latinos have been left out of the healthcare system—not affording quality healthcare services, not understanding the system, or not realizing the importance of being well informed and empowered healthcare consumers. The impact is a community that often lags behind in almost every measure of health. Latinos are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy and more likely to suffer from a serious illness like diabetes or heart disease. When Latinos do get sick, they have less access to the treatments and medicines they need to get better. My work, in close partnership with the entire HHS team, is helping to educate more Latinos about the impact of the Affordable Care Act, how we’re improving the quality of healthcare for the community, and what lies ahead to ensure more Latinos are covered by quality, affordable insurance. As a Latina, I am honored to be part of a robust team at HHS dedicated to improving the health of the Latino community and all Americans.