Penelope Kokkinides has built a career on solving healthcare‘s most challenging and relevant problems. With a funding crisis rocking Puerto Rico, she remains undaunted in uncharted waters. Her background and education have given her a solid foundation on which to tackle this issue, holding a BA in biology and classical languages, a master’s in social work, and an MPH from Columbia’s School of Public Health.
Kokkinides channeled her education into a series of important roles, working with government-administered health coverage. Her first position at United Healthcare allowed Kokkinides to develop and implement the company’s health model. She transitioned her successes at United to leadership roles for Aveta, Inc., Touchstone-Health, InnovaCare Health Services, and Centerlight Health System, eventually returning to InnovaCare where she now serves as its Chief Administrative Officer, alongside CEO Richard Shinto.
InnovaCare Health provides Medicaid and Medicare Advantage services to the population of Puerto Rico, and it is through her role at the company that Kokkinides found herself advocating for the people of the island territory to President Trump. She was invited to the White House in March of 2017, as a part of the Women in Healthcare Panel, a roundtable discussion with the President and CMS Administrator Seema Verma. Kokkinides used the opportunity to press the administration on the vital need for federal health programs in Puerto Rico.
The meeting pre-dated the public health meltdown Puerto Rico is now grappling with in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and even then, Penelope Kokkinides stressed the importance of health services for the island. Since 2011, Kokkinides noted, federal funding for Medicare Advantage plans in Puerto Rico has dropped $1 billion annually, higher than the relative amounts cut on the mainland. Without help from CMS, President Trump and Seema Verma were reminded, the Medicaid system would collapse in Puerto Rico, sending a cascade of healthcare refugees to the mainland, where Medicaid operating costs are often quadruple that of the island.
InnovaCare Health serves more than 560,000 Puerto Ricans, almost a fifth of the population, its Medicare Advantage coverage among the most popular plans in the territory. While the panel discussion focused on the role of women in healthcare, earning praise from the President for the “vital and indispensable” work of females in the industry, InnovaCare should be proud of the voice Penelope Kokkinides gave to the people of Puerto Rico. In the days following the meeting, CMS acknowledged her recommendation with an increase in funding to the territory’s healthcare system.