There are two particularly squeamish stories on the front page of today’s New York Times: Right below the photo of an emaciated Somalian child, one among the 500,000 starving from a drought, violence and misappropriated aid, is the profile of the Levy brothers, Flatbush “Medicaid moguls” who, before they recently stepped down, were receiving huge federally funded salaries at their nonprofit dedicated to caring for the developmentally disabled. It was only last month that our nation’s politicians were embroiled in a debate that looked like it could have seriously undermined Medicaid, but this story, redirecting the focus to the morally ambiguous inner-workings of Medicaid funds, dampens the debt deal’s quick-save of the program with a look at how much more intensive reform really needs to be implemented.
The print may be in black and white, but the gravity of the story is in shades of gray. The Levy brothers, Philip and Joel, rose to executives at the Young Adult Institute, a non-profit care provider for the developmentally disabled, in the wake of Geraldo Rivera’s shocking 1972 exposé of the Willowbrook State School, a Staten Island care provider whose conditions were horrifying. The Levys’ story involves federally funded Lexuses, a $50,400 Greenwich Village co-op for Philip Levy’s daughter at NYU, opulent summer homes, and shady reimbursement strategies. But it also involves the high quality of care at the Young Adult Institute, and the support it has from families of the disabled. Remember how easy it was to point out evil, executive greed in the wake of the BP oil spill? This, not so much.
What makes things trickier is that a deplorable contingent of politicians (and a small sample of their Kool-Aid drinking constituents) want federally funded social programs to disappear. And when liberals have to expend all their energy fighting for the right of these programs to exist, it’s difficult not to feel disheartened by a story like this, which makes all the fighting seem like it’s for a bad cause. But we needn’t feel discouraged. Greed can take root anywhere—if we focused our energies on overhauling the system by eliminating exploitation, no matter where it occurs, then maybe voters wouldn’t respond to inane political platforms that only hint at actual problem-solving.