HealthSherpa was founded in 2013 on the belief that healthcare should not be politicized, but instead is a fundamental right rather than a privilege.
The organization began in San Francisco, then expanded to Sacramento in 2015.
“Healthcare should be a human experience,” they say, “not a transactional one. We see and acknowledge that certain communities are likely to be even more at risk when it comes to accessing health coverage.” As a result, HealthSherpa helps clients find, enroll in and make the best use of their ACA health coverage.
“We have a team of advocates who come from social work and nonprofit backgrounds,” they explain, “ready to help individuals find the best plan for their needs. All of our advocates are licensed brokers, and we leverage technology to make the entire process easy – from finding, to enrolling, then using health coverage. When shopping for a new health insurance plan, we’ll let each person know if they qualify for savings (eight out of ten people are eligible to save on their monthly premiums) and recommend the most affordable plan based on their budget.”
Not only will HealthSherpa provide assistance in putting a healthcare package in place. They remain available year-round via phone, chat and email. “That’s so individuals who have enrolled can leverage us as a resource and get the most out of their coverage.”
In addition, HealthSherpa also serves low-income uninsured folks who don’t typically have access to coverage. The LGBTQ+ community faces higher rates of illness and health challenges (including HIV/AIDS, mental illness, substance use and sexual and physical violence), as well as barriers to accessing healthcare resulting in worse health outcomes.
“There are great organizations and resources around health coverage and access,” they want to make clear, “but not enough technology/product innovation. We want to use our experience and platform to focus on building products and resources that increase healthcare access and awareness to the LGBTQ+ community.”
That means providing a way for folks to filter by LGBTQ+ providers when they’re looking for a new plan, and resources focused on LGBTQ+ healthcare:
Those encompass mental health, family planning and more. Partnering with other mission-driven organizations to further reach the LGBTQ+ community. “HealthSherpa strongly believes in diversity and inclusion of all people,” they maintain, “of all genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, educational backgrounds, religions, abilities, socio-economic backgrounds, immigration statuses and more. We are dedicated to building a company that folds diversity & inclusion into our business. This means the communities we aim to support are reflected on the HealthSherpa team.”
How It All Began
How did this come to pass? A look at one of the founder’s backgrounds gives the HealthSherpa story a sharper focus:
“Our founder, Cat Perez, along with many people on the HealthSherpa team, are openly on the LGBTQ+spectrum. So increasing healthcare access and awareness to the LGBTQ+ community is a topic that’s close to our hearts.”
Perez was born and raised in New Jersey of a Puerto Rican father and Korean mother. While she was growing up, both parents worked multiple jobs; they had little to no education and were low income. Their daughter was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic elementary school. But by the time she was six years old, she knew she was different.
No one within her friend or family group had come out. Perez went away to college at 18. In order to complete her education, she received multiple scholarships and paid for the rest of her tuition by working a series of part-time jobs. During college, she had a girlfriend but neither of them were public about their relationship. At that time, being out was pretty scary and being openly on the LGBTQ+ spectrum was frowned upon by some of the college staff.
The young Perez was the first in her extended family to go and graduate from college. Once she graduated, she moved to San Francisco where she found an LGBTQ+ community leading to a stronger sense of identity. Coming out a few years after moving to San Francisco, she opened up to her parents, which didn’t go well. She didn’t speak with her parents for almost a year.
They were angry and mentioned “sinning” numerous times during a heated exchange. As a result, their daughter assumed they were mourning the death of who they thought she was and/or would become. She felt horrible, hurt and alone. She thought she’d disappointed them and was afraid she’d lost them forever.
In 2013, Cat took part in a million-dollar Hack-a-thon. She’d also found an opportunity to build a user-friendly HealthCare.gov for iOS — the same year HealthCare.gov had a rocky launch.
Perez ended up winning first place: a million dollars. From there, she left her full-time job and devoted herself to entrepreneurship. She built mobile and web apps for the healthcare patient-and-provider sectors based on the app from the Hack-a-thon.
A few years later, Cat connected with the HealthSherpa founders who had launched a similar company. They asked Perez to join the team as Founder and Chief Product Officer, and she said yes.
Best Possible Outcomes
Since joining, Cat has led the team to over 1.4 million people enrolled in health coverage. Today, she also manages Diversity & Inclusion initiatives at HealthSherpa, something she cares deeply about as a queer woman of color. This means a strong company focus on building products and experiences that increase healthcare access and awareness to the LGBTQ+ community.
Now, more than a decade after coming out, Cat Perez and her parents are much closer.
They’re supportive of her identity and she recently found out her mother connected with new friends around the common topic of their LGBTQ children. These days, that goes both ways, as Cat credits her parents for her strong work ethic — constantly making bets, building things, pushing herself — and always finding an opportunity or an opening.
Last modified: September 13, 2018