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Jake Forbes chats with alum Ashley Gray

When Ashley Gray, MPP ‘14, began her master’s in Public Policy, she knew her primary interest was health care. After starting at a different institution, Gray transferred to William & Mary, where the curriculum incorporated more content on health policy.

At the university, Gray enjoyed a greater focus on federal issues and the stronger Washington, D.C. presence.

“It was nice to be in a program that was more tightly knit and had so much involvement with the professors,” Gray said. “I did not expect to have that experience in a graduate program, and I am so thankful I did.”

During her second year in the program, Gray interned at Amerigroup, which has since been acquired by Anthem. Gray worked within the Medicaid & Duals Policy Unit and attributed the internship opening to a connection from Professor of Public Policy Louis Rossiter.

“I had such great opportunities just by virtue of the relationships that the professors had, which helped begin my career,” Gray said. 

After receiving her degree in May 2014, Gray worked as a senior associate with Avalere Health. A year later, she stepped into the role of director of federal policy at Medicaid Health Plans of America (MHPA). In this role, she engaged with federal policy and regulations relating to the Medicaid industry, and coordinated with member plans to establish policy positions and advocate for those positions on their behalf. Gray transitioned into a new role at Blue Cross Blue Shield Association in 2017, serving as the organization's director of Medicaid. In this role, she was responsible for assisting plans with legislative and regulatory goals for Medicaid and CHIP. She also led a Medicaid enterprise team that supported plan business development and ensured quality improvement.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Gray left the insurance industry and started at MITRE, a not-for-profit organization that manages federally funded research and development centers to support U.S. government agencies. 

While at MITRE, much of Gray’s work focused on health information technology (IT). She described her efforts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) using health IT to reduce fragmentation within the U.S. healthcare system. Specifically, Gray discussed how health IT can improve information sharing within agencies.

“The priority of this focus for HHS is actually using interoperability and systems to bring the data together more cohesively,” Gray said. “‘Health’ should be able to talk to ‘Human Services’ in the same language using the same data, and there should be free and easy transfer between these IT organizations at the federal level.”

Gray explained that improvements in data sharing will especially benefit Medicaid beneficiaries, who often rely on multiple government assistance programs. As well, health IT can further health equity efforts.

“Health data can move the needle quite a bit on social determinants of health, just by being able to get meaningful data that is actually translatable across programs,” she said.

At the start of the new year, Gray transitioned into her current role as Vice President at Sirona Strategies, a small healthcare consulting firm focused on the intersection of policy and advocacy. Her role focuses on Medicaid, health equity, and public health.

Gray also serves as executive director of Aligning for Health, a coalition run by Sirona Strategies. The organization works with stakeholders and policymakers to promote integrated, cross-system strategies and sustainable financing models that achieve better health outcomes, improve program effectiveness, and lower costs. 

“It's composed, payers, both across Medicaid, Medicare Advantage, technology companies, and a few other foundations that are really focused on social determinants of health and advancing policy at the federal level,” Gray said.

In November 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration released its U.S. Playbook to Address Social Determinants of Health, an initiative Aligning for Health collaborated on.

“That was something we worked on very closely with the White House,” Gray said. “We leveraged not only the experience of our member companies, but also the policy solutions that we’ve been advancing for the past seven years. So that was a nice kind of crowning achievement.”

Gray said that beyond paying attention to social determinants of health, other factors such as rural health, the elderly, and workforce issues are of increasing importance.

Gray offered a concluding piece of advice for students pursuing a career in public policy.

“Approach policy with a very open mindset,” she said. “Policy can be very complicated, but it can also be surprisingly simple in a lot of ways. But approaching whatever role you have with the mindset of being open, and perhaps having your preconceived notions or what you learned in class challenged, is important.”