Inspiring Latina of the Week: Director of Public Health Policy Mayra Alvarez

Mayra Alvarez has a passion for empowering Latinas through health reform. As the Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform at the Department of Health and Human Services, she oversees public health, prevention, and healthcare workforce provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

Prior to working in the office of Senator Durbin, she served as a Legislative Assistant for then-Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis, the chair of the Health Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. We spoke to the North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California at Berkeley grad about her career and advice to professional Latinas. Check it out below!

What do you love the most about your job as the Director of Public Health Policy for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)?

On a national level, when considering each of our biggest goals as a country – creating jobs, helping our children succeed in school, and building stronger communities – improving health contributes to every single one of them. The healthier we are, the more freedom we have to pursue our dreams, take care of our families, and contribute to our workplaces and communities. The Obama Administration believes a healthier country is one in which many more Americans have the chance to reach their full potential. 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.

Why do you think it's so important for Latinas to be informed about the Affordable Care Act?

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, Latinas are less likely to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy and more likely to suffer from a serious illness like heart disease, diabetes, cervical cancer, and HIV.  Latinas have less access to the treatments and medicines they need to get better. And too often, Latina women, like other American women who are the caregivers for their families, face difficult decisions between getting care or paying the bills at home.

Part of 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.  Because of the health care law, Latina women can make their health a priority and have more opportunities to keep their families healthy.

What was it like working with Hilda Solis earlier on in your career? What did she teach you?

My first permanent position on Capitol Hill was working for then-Congresswoman Hilda Solis as her legislative assistant. During that time, she served as the Chair of the Health Task Force for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. I was honored to work for the leading voice on Latino health issues for the Caucus. Ms. Solis was and remains a steadfast champion for women, the Latino community, underserved communities, and the millions whose voices and perspectives are too often overlooked. She taught me that personal experience contributes to passion and that passion can lead to action. She is the daughter of immigrants, a Latina, and a woman who remains a true inspiration to me and so many others.

What's your advice to Latinas who want to follow in your professional footsteps?

As more Latinas engage, it is important to always remember that no one gets to where they’re going alone. Mentoring—both finding a mentor and being one—never ends. We constantly grow and learn. I’ve been fortunate to have strong, inspiring individuals in my life, who have provided me support and helped guide my professional decisions, and I only hope I can one day do the same for someone else.

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