National Partnership for Women & Families

Debra L. Ness


For more than three decades, Debra Ness has been a strong advocate for fairness and social justice. Drawing on an extensive background in health and public policy, Ness possesses a unique understanding of the issues that face women and families at home, in the workplace, and in the health care arena. Before assuming her current role as president, she served as executive vice president of the National Partnership for 13 years. Ness has played a leading role in positioning the organization as a powerful and effective advocate for today’s women and families.

In addition to leading the Campaign for Better Care — an initiative funded by The Atlantic Philanthropies that is working to ensure that reform is implemented in ways that improve health care for the oldest, sickest and most vulnerable patients — Ness serves on the boards of some of the nation’s most influential organizations working to improve health care.

Ness sits on the board of the National Quality Forum (NQF) and the board of the National Priorities Partnership (NPP). She is a member of the board of directors and chairs the Consumer Advisory Council of the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA). Ness was recently elected to serve as both the first public member on the American College of Cardiology (ACC) board of trustees and one of the first public members on the board of the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM). She co-chairs the Consumer-Purchaser Alliance, a group of leading consumer, employer and labor organizations working to improve the quality, accountability and affordability of health care. She serves on the Quality Alliance Steering Committee (QASC) and on the Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q) National Advisory Committee (NAC).

In addition, Ness serves on the Executive Committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and co-chairs its Health Care Task Force. She also serves on the board of directors of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) as well as EMILY’s List.

Ness graduated summa cum laude from Drew University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. After completing graduate work in social welfare and public health policy, she received her Masters of Science from Columbia University School of Social Work. She worked in numerous capacities at the Service Employees International Union, first as director of adult education and career development efforts, and later conducting strategic planning and organizational development programs for local unions. In 1986, she moved to head up field operations for the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), where she worked to revitalize the organization’s grassroots political capability and affiliate network. She became NARAL’s deputy director in 1989 and helped transform the organization into a major force in American electoral politics. She joined the National Partnership in 1991.

Ness lives in Rockville, Md.

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