Meet the State's New Health Commissioner

New York State has a new health commissioner. Dr. Nirav Shah, who ran a rural health system in Pennsylvania, said his first task is to preside over the organization of the state’s most expensive in the nation Medicaid system.

Dr. Shah has practiced medicine at New York City’s Bellevue psychiatric hospital, conducted research at a large rural health care system in Pennsylvania and taught at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.

He was born in western New York, and received his degrees from Harvard and Yale. Governor Andrew Cuomo officially swore in the new health commissioner Monday after he received unanimous confirmation from the State Senate.

“Dr. Shah is bringing the best and the brightest to state government,” said Cuomo “This is a boy from Buffalo makes good.”

Shah’s area of expertise is reforming health care systems to improve patient outcome, something that will come in handy as the new governor has signaled his intention to completely redesign the state’s Medicaid system.  The new health commissioner was reticent though to discus what specific ideas he’d favor to reform New York’s Medicaid system, the most expensive in the nation, saying he’d defer to a panel set up by the governor.

“We have many ideas from many sources, and I look forward to sharing them with you, probably in about a week,” Shah said.

The state faces a $10 billion dollar deficit, and Cuomo said he wants to close the gap without raising taxes or borrowing so deep cuts to health care are expected in the governor’s budget due out next week. Dr. Shah was asked if hospitals would have to close in New York, he said that is  “up to the board of directors of the hospitals.”

Shah’s predecessor, Dr. Richard Daines, was a strong advocate of imposing new taxes on sugary soft drinks as a means to combat child hood obesity. Shah said he does not favor that approach, saying he’s against new taxes, just like his new employer, the governor. But he did suggest that perhaps food stamps programs should try to restrict the purchase of sugared drinks.

Cuomo did not offer details on what cuts may come to health care programs when he releases his budget February 1, but he did reiterate his message that the state has been spending at an unsustainable rate, and that must stop.

“The rate of spending is unsustainable,” Cuomo said. “That is a fact.”

Cuomo said the state has for too long been perceived as anti business, and he says that has to change.