A Latina Is One of the Architects of CT's Universal Health Care


By Wayne Jebian
For the past eight years, Frances G. Padilla of New Haven has been performing one of the most complicated jobs in Connecticut: assisting in bringing affordable health care to everyone in the state.
While she served as executive vice president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, she was part of a team that produced SustiNet, the policy initiative set to fulfill the requirements of the Affordable Health Care Act, the 2009 law advanced by the Obama administration. With Padilla’s promotion recently to president of the Universal Health Care Foundation, the recognition of her role in this far-reaching project has been made official.
“We are so lucky to have a strong successor fully prepared to assume our top leadership role,” said Daniel Livingston, chair of Connecticut Health Advancement Research Trust (CHART), referring to her replacement of predecessor Juan A. Figueroa, the first president of the foundation. “Frances possesses the personal vision and character we need to advance our work. And she has the experience and skills needed to lead us in achieving the vision of quality and affordable health care accessible to all Connecticut residents.” CHART is the parent organization of the Universal Health Care Foundation.
Setting the Gold Standard
Padilla, a graduate of Wesleyan University and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, is a rising star and role model for Latinas, who could be said to face a kind of double-glass ceiling when it comes to positions of executive leadership as both a woman and a Latina. However, while Padilla is truly public-spirited, having co-founded the Progreso Latino Fund of the Community Foundation of New Haven to encourage Latino philanthropy, she would much rather talk about what she does than about herself and her own accomplishments.
“When we rolled out the policy in 2009, it was the result of a number of years getting input from a cross-section of stakeholders in Connecticut, and also drawing from some of the best thinking around the country about what the health care of the 21st Century really needs to look like,” she said. “SustiNet became the gold standard for reform.”
Connecticut has been ahead of the national curve on health care policy, and Padilla has been working on SustiNet since well before the conception of the Affordable Health Care Act, now better known as ObamaCare. Some of that “best thinking” alluded to by Padilla came from Massachusetts, whose groundbreaking statewide policy was passed during the administration of former Gov. Mitt Romney, now President Obama’s rival in the upcoming election.
Looking North for Inspiration
“We watched carefully what was happening in Massachusetts, which preceded our work by a couple of years and was a very convenient model to have,” Padilla said. “They had different circumstances, but we have learned a lot from their implementation. They didn’t deal with cost or primary care availability upfront, although they have turned now to address these things.” The Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut has been careful to take such factors into account from the beginning, according to Padilla.
Many Connecticut families with children currently benefit from the Husky/Medicaid plan, and these people may wonder how their coverage will change when the bulk of the Affordable Health Care Act is implemented in 2014. Padilla explained: “Husky becomes part of the SustiNet Plan, and in so doing, the quality of the services to the people who participate in Husky will be improved by emphasizing prevention and primary care. There will be a move to make sure that everyone on Husky or other public plans in Connecticut are in what we call a ‘medical home,’ that everyone has access to a primary source of care. That care will be delivered in a way that is about educating the patient, being a partner with that patient, and coordinating that care so that there’s better communication between the health care providers around the patient.” Padilla said that the goal is to head off illnesses and their complications before they happen, helping to control long-term medical costs to the state and the nation.
A Focus on Cost
Padilla has kept a close eye on cost throughout the process. “We need a more competitive marketplace in Connecticut,” she explained. “There are just a few large insurance companies that offer plans. That means that all of us are limited in our choices. The kinds of reforms that are needed are not always the kinds of reforms that insurance companies are equipped to foster. We need nonprofit, public and private plans in the marketplace in order to drive some of these changes that are so necessary.”
Padilla continued, “There are so many dysfunctions in the health care system in the way that it is financed and delivered that it touches every single one of us. Over the years, we have come across people all over the state with experiences that really need attention. We’ve brought that to the forefront. This is a marathon event, a very long-term project. I’m training to walk 39 miles in October for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, so these very long walks I’ve been taking are an opportunity for me to reflect on that.”