Sep. 04 2019

Carlos Cuevas Gives Back

Bronx native Carlos Cuevas, MPH ’12, had an Ivy League degree and a job in finance when the Great Recession hit in 2008. As effects of the downturn rippled through his extended family and former neighbors the young professional watched loved ones lose their jobs, qualify for government programs, and then struggle to find healthcare providers willing to accept Medicaid patients. “At some point, everyone utilizes the healthcare system, but so few people understand how the financing dictates what the kind of care they get and in what setting.  I realized if I could learn the financial language of public health programs, there was a lot of good I could do to help my family and others in their position. So I set out to be the Medicaid expert for my generation.”

Cuevas’s first step was to jointly enroll at Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs and the Columbia Mailman School, taking courses in economics, statistics, and decision modeling, as well as epidemiology, social determinants of health, and anything taught by Michael Sparer, chair of Health Policy and Management and an expert on Medicaid policy and healthcare reform. When the Affordable Care Act passed during his second semester, Cuevas dug even deeper, penning a thesis on the pros and cons of how to regulate health insurance companies. “I lived like a 12th-century monk in graduate school,” he says, “I studied all the ways the ACA would impact the public health insurance landscape.”

Degree in hand, Cuevas headed to the state capital, where he rose through the ranks of the Department of Health, developing financial metrics and incentives to drive New York’s Medicaid program. “In Albany, I learned the complex intricacies of developing policies and incentives that not only drive positive change but are also structured in a manner that allow for flexibility in their implementation across various settings,” he says.

Returning to New York City in 2017, Cuevas continued to work to ensure health care access to some of New York’s most vulnerable residents as executive vice president of strategy and innovation for SOMOS IPA, a network of 2,500 healthcare providers who serve more than 650,000 Medicaid members in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn. “As a professional, I want to take on challenges that require innovative solutions,” he says. “If we can help people who face economic and social barriers healthier, then we’re really making strides,” he says. “As a society, it’s how we take care of those who are less fortunate because that reflects our greater values and empathy.”

To more effectively respond to their patients’ needs, SOMOS has transitioned its care delivery and financing model from a fee-for-service to one that is value-based by providing holistic clinical, behavioral, and social health services through partnerships with community-based organizations and community health workers. For his part in helping SOMOS in its transition, Crain’s New York Business honored the achievement by naming Cuevas among their “40 Business Leaders Under 40.”

Cuevas shows no signs of resting on his laurels and remains active in the Columbia Mailman community. He has served on the School’s Alumni Board since his graduation and is currently the Board’s president.  During his tenure, his leadership has helped to increased alumni engagement and financial support, including overseeing five consecutive years of record-breaking donations for student scholarships. Cuevas also works to forge relationships within the School’s community by serving as a mentor to students and fellow alumni. In recognition of his significant professional achievements and commitment to the Columbia Mailman community, he was presented with the School’s inaugural “Outstanding Recent Alumni” award in 2016.