What’s the best way to expand health care coverage? How can medical costs be brought under control, whether it’s prescription drugs or the state’s massive Medicaid program? Is it a bad idea to let people smoke marijuana or flavored e-cigarettes? These debates, which are raging on the national stage, are also front and center for politicians and policymakers in New York in 2020.
In City & State’s Health Power 100, we highlight the stakeholders in New York City and New York state who are formulating the answers to these policy questions – as well as countless other medical matters, from combating AIDS and opioids to contending with the anti-vaccination movement.
The list features an impressive array of individuals: top lawmakers and key government appointees; executives at leading hospitals, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies; caregivers and advocates; and academics and consultants. Everyone on the list is aligned on at least one matter: promoting the health of all New Yorkers.
1. Howard Zucker
Commissioner, State Department of Health
As New York’s chief physician, Howard Zucker has shaped state health policy and combated an unending onslaught of public health threats. In 2014, while he was still acting commissioner, Zucker’s agency issued a study that was the basis for banning hydraulic fracturing in New York. He oversaw the rollout of the state’s medical marijuana program, and would play a role if recreational marijuana is legalized. He has found some success in spearheading efforts to end the opioid and AIDS epidemics, as well as strengthening environmental health protections. And he has confronted such threats as Ebola, Legionella, Zika, drug-resistant superbugs – and, more recently, the rising anti-vaccination movement.
A lawyer, academic and physician with an extensive career in global public health, disaster preparedness and infectious disease response in both the public and private sectors, he oversees a $150 billion public health agency with more than 5,000 employees. In state government, Zucker cut his teeth as deputy commissioner from 2013 to 2014 and later as acting commissioner from 2014 until his confirmation in 2015. To top it off, he may – or may not – have been the inspiration behind the TV show “Doogie Howser, M.D.”
2. Oxiris Barbot
Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is one of the biggest and oldest agencies of its kind, serving more than 8 million New Yorkers with a budget of $1.6 billion and some 6,000 employees – and leading the whole enterprise is Oxiris Barbot.
Her scope is broad, covering everything from patient care and public health to restaurant grades and birth certificates. The accomplished pediatrician and public health advocate was appointed to the post in December 2018, becoming the first Latina to lead the agency.
Born at Bellevue Hospital, Barbot has over 25 years of experience crafting equitable health policy and providing care in urban communities. In her prior role as first deputy commissioner, Barbot was responsible for Take Care New York 2020, an initiative that aims to address social determinants of health, such as incarceration and education levels. She also served as Baltimore’s commissioner of health, where she launched Healthy Baltimore 2015, a program that directed resources strategically to places that would make the biggest impact on public health.
3. Richard Gottfried
Chairman, Assembly Health Committee
Over the past half century, Richard Gottfried has been a progressive stalwart in Albany. Since he was elected to the Assembly in 1970 at age 23, he has helped craft a raft of notable health care policy measures, including the state’s landmark managed care reform and multiple laws creating avenues for low-income New Yorkers to access insurance. He has championed end-of-life care and reproductive rights, and was the first sponsor of a same-sex marriage bill in the Assembly.
More recently, he was a driving force behind the legalization of medical marijuana and, with Democrats controlling both houses last year, the passage of the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.
But the Manhattan lawmaker isn’t done. For more than a quarter century, he has been advocating for single-payer health care, a proposal that has gained traction in recent years. Gottfried’s signature legislative effort, called the New York Health Act, which would effectively abolish the private insurance industry and create a single-payer system for all New Yorkers.
4. Donna Frescatore
State Medicaid Director; Executive Director, New York State of Health
Most of the medical professionals and health care policymakers on this list have just one job to do. Donna Frescatore has been tasked by Gov. Andrew Cuomo with two critical posts – either of which would qualify as a top government position in New York health care by itself.
Frescatore was appointed Medicaid director in 2018, a role she previously held in 2010, making her responsible for the health insurance of more than 6 million low-income citizens as well as payments to over 80,000 care providers and more than 85 managed care plans. Under her leadership, Medicaid enrollment increased by a record-breaking 435,000 people over the past year.
Frescatore continues to serve in her prior position as executive director of New York State of Health, the state’s online insurance exchange, which was created as part of the federal Affordable Care Act. Frescatore has worked in state government for most of her career, first joining the Health Department in 1998 as the director of managed care financing and later serving in the state Department of Civil Service for 17 years.
5. Kenneth Raske
President and CEO, Greater New York Hospital Association
New York has a multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Medicaid is on the chopping block. An array of health care services could be slashed. But Kenneth Raske has been here before – and the longtime leader of the state’s preeminent health care advocacy organization is in a position to deliver the best possible deal for his members yet again.
Raske, who has led the association since 1984, has helped reverse or limit health care cuts, from the battles he waged against the Spitzer and Paterson administrations to his work on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Medicaid Redesign Team in 2011 to the successful campaign to reverse $550 million in Medicaid cuts this past session. While spending millions of dollars on lobbying in Albany, GNYHA has also cultivated a productive partnership with the influential 1199SEIU health care workers union on fiscal matters. Raske’s organization also represents hospitals and care facilities in Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island, and has a presence in Washington, D.C., where it has advocated against Medicare cuts and for the Affordable Care Act.
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