Figueroa to step down from Universal Health Care Foundation

Juan A. Figueroa, a former state legislator who has led the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut since 2003, is stepping down as president in September, the Meriden-based foundation announced Friday.

Executive Vice President Frances G. Padilla will succeed Figueroa as president. She led the foundation on an interim basis when Figueroa took a leave to pursue the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010.

The foundation has been highly visible as the primary backer of the Healthcare4every1 campaign and SustiNet, a proposed state-run health insurance plan intended to compete with commercial insurance products. The movement behind it brought together a wide range of backers, including labor unions, clergy, small businesses, realtors and physicians.

According to the foundation, Figueroa will spend the next several months leading a planning process aimed at determining the focus of the foundation’s future work.

“I think I’ve taken the foundation as far as I can take it, and really it’s time for me to explore what’s out there,” Figueroa said Friday. He praised the foundation’s board and staff, and said Padilla, with whom he has worked since 2004, is “a great leader.”

Figueroa is a former Connecticut assistant attorney general who previously served as president and general counsel of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York. He returned to Connecticut to run the foundation, then known as the Anthem Foundation of Connecticut, which was created with money from Anthem Health Plans as part of a settlement when it merged with the nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Plan.

Not long into his tenure as the foundation’s first president, Figueroa wrote an op-ed about the need for strong policy about universal health care. Soon after, the foundation shed its insurance-inspired name and took one more in concert with its mission.

“As the founding president, Juan brought to the Foundation not only his incredible skills, but also a deep and abiding commitment to health care reform as one of the critical social justice issues of our generation,” Daniel Livingston, chairman of the Connecticut Health Advancement and Research Trust, the foundation’s parent organization, said in a statement. “And he brought with him the conviction that together this is a fight that the people of Connecticut can win.”

A frequent presence at the state Capitol, Figueroa and his colleagues continued the push for SustiNet last year after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and Democratic legislators reached a compromise that SustiNet supporters believed was short of their goal. They ultimately backed the final compromise that became law.

This year, the foundation has been active in raising concerns about the way federal health reform is being implemented in Connecticut, questioning the composition of the board charged with developing the state’s health insurance exchange, a key piece of the reform law.

The foundation has also provided seed money for programs including the urban track program at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, health equity research led by the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, and nonprofit online media organizations the Connecticut Health Investigative Team and the New Haven Independent.

Figueroa said his work at the foundation was the first time he had a job with a single-issue focus, and said he hopes his next job will have a social justice agenda but in a broader framework. He said he was particularly proud of expanding the base of people involved in pushing for universal health care, and said that while he will be working with a broad group of people involved in its activities to determine its future focus, the foundation’s mission — creating universal access to affordable, quality health care — won’t change.

“I don’t have to tell you how much we still have go to to get the kind of health care reform that we’ve been advocating for for the state,” he said.