Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey has medicine in her blood. The daughter of two physicians, Lavizzo-Mourey, age 55, grew up in Seattle, Wash., and saw the positives and negatives of living in a country where health care is available — to those who can afford it.
Lavizzo-Mourey remembers her parents’ reactions to their patients after a recession in her community resulted in a large number of layoffs.
“I remember them talking about the effect that had on their patient’s willingness to seek care,” she said. “I remember my parents not sending bills to patients who they thought would stop coming to see them if they got a bill that they couldn’t pay.”
Decades later, doctors are still facing the same dilemma. New generations of patients, including over 45 million uninsured Americans, are struggling to get the medical treatments they need.
In 2002, Lavizzo-Mourey was named president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation after serving as its senior vice president for a year and a half. As a former Robert Wood Johnson Clinical scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, she was already familiar with the foundation’s mission; no doubt, this has helped her manage the hundreds of millions of dollars the foundation grants to organizations that provide research and analysis on health issues, and improve the health of Americans and the health care system.
Lavizzo-Mourey has spent her medical career both as a practicing physician who specializes in geriatrics, and as a health policymaker. After receiving her medical degree from Harvard Medical School, she went on to earn her MBA in health care administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. Lavizzo-Mourey has also worked in the political arena. Aside from serving on various federal committees, she was brought on as deputy administrator for what is now known as the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality during the last year of the first Bush administration, and was on the White House task force on health care reform during President Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Though her time with the federal government did not yield a complete success in the name of health care reform, Lavizzo-Mourey remains optimistic that it will come in the future.
“I think that we are much more aware of the importance of being a healthy community,” she said.
Lavizzo-Mourey believes there are seven factors essential to the health care reform effort. These include ensuring that everyone has affordable insurance coverage, lowering health care costs and improving the overall quality of health care. But achieving this, she says, will take longer than passing one piece of legislation.
“It’s going to take a movement, and that’s what I think we have to be focused on, is that long-term goal.”