Now a longtime resident of Prince George’s County, Maryland, Patricia Arzuaga grew up in the Bronx, where she learned her most important lessons by observing the adults in her life. Both of her parents were in labor unions and worked hard to support their three children. Teachers at her school invested in their students. Families at her church supported one another and reached out to those in need. Those experiences gave Arzuaga the principles and values that guide her today in her work as senior counsel at Kaiser Permanente.
While the New York public school system presented challenges for Latinos and other minorities, Arzuaga found a scholarship program that sent her to a private high school nearby. When she got accepted to Yale, support from her father’s union helped pay for her education. She landed a job as a paralegal and later enrolled at Harvard Law School.
The young Latina from the Bronx entered Harvard with hope and gratitude, determined to make the most of her unique opportunity. “I knew I had been given a lot in life,” she says. “And the good influences in my life taught me that we all have an obligation to work hard and use the gifts we’ve been given to help other people.”
That’s exactly what she set out to do. Upon graduation, Arzuaga started her career in public service at the Justice Department, where she defended federal agencies against civil lawsuits. She received excellent training and learned what it takes to be a strong litigator.
However, the experience left her longing for something more. “I’m curious by nature, and I love digging in on specific issues,” she says. Arzuaga wanted the opportunity to develop deep subject-matter expertise in a specific field.
That desire stayed in Arzuaga’s mind as she sought out new cases and assignments, and before long, she found herself working on her first Medicaid fraud case. When that case was over, she handled a similar matter, and as she dug into the nuanced issues and regulations, Arzuaga realized she’d found her niche in healthcare law.
Arzuaga spent the next portion of her career taking positions where she could explore her new interest and make an impact while refining her skills and her knowledge of how to provide access to and pay for healthcare services in the US. She worked on the first set of federal healthcare reform rules at the Department of Labor, lobbied on behalf of Blue Cross Blue Shield plans, and later drafted member documents for employer-based health plan clients at a large law firm.
All of these positions helped Arzuaga understand what has become one of the nation’s most complex fields. She wanted to leverage that expertise to help guide strategy for one client, which led to her taking a role on the legal team at Kaiser Permanente.
With eleven million members and two hundred thousand employees, Kaiser Permanente is the nation’s leading nonprofit health plan. Arzuaga serves as the organization’s lead regulatory lawyer for its mid-Atlantic region and advises executive leadership in setting strategy for delivering high quality, affordable health care for Kaiser’s members and in improving the health of the communities that Kaiser serves. Her work impacts the company and its customers alike as Kaiser continually enhances services to ensure group purchasers and individual plan members understand how their plans work to help people take care of their health.
During her fifteen years at Kaiser, Arzuaga has looked for ways to give back and support her colleagues. Through the Kaiser Permanente legal department’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program, she has mentored other staff, and worked with her colleagues to support a robust internship program that partners with colleges and schools to provide professional opportunities to a diverse range of students. Through this program, the department has created incentives that encourage outside law firms to diversify their teams and to increase professional opportunities and development of minority, female, and veteran-owned vendors.
For Arzuaga, these efforts also extend outside of the workplace and into the community. “I have a huge passion for giving back to the Latino community that did so much to put me on the path that I followed in my professional life,” Arzuaga says.
She serves on community nonprofit boards, including the Latin American Youth Center, an organization that provides educational, workforce development, housing, and health and wellness services to over four thousand kids and families at youth centers and other sites in Maryland and the District of Columbia. She is also the current chair of the Board of Trustees of Luminis Health Doctors Community Health Center, which just received a Certificate of Need to build a new behavioral health facility and plans to submit another to expand obstetrics and gynecology services.
“Not only is Patricia an essential member of Kaiser’s legal team, but her expertise and passion for giving back make her an invaluable part of the Luminis Health System Board of Trustees,” says Rene LaVigne, CEO of Iron Bow Technologies.
All the work that Arzuaga does aims to improve equity in the delivery of healthcare and remove barriers to treatment to give more individuals access to healthcare. “We’re helping people have access to the services they need to live life to the fullest,” she says.
It’s another way she’s living out her lifelong mission to apply her skills in the service of others.