The Times Herald Record of Middletown recently ran a front-page piece citing a very shocking statistic, and one that took many by surprise: 93% in Kiryas Joel on Medicaid assistance.
This fact alone should come as little shock to many of us who suspected social services abuse. Even our newly elected County Executive, Steve Neuhaus, was a skeptic of the 2010 figures that County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis read at a recent Monroe Town Board meeting. It turned out he was pretty close, but things weren’t as bad as he made them seem.
They were even worse.
The numbers are alarming, but don’t tell the entire story. When you also consider the Hasidic residents living outside of the Village of Kiryas Joel that comprise a significant portion of the unincorporated town’s population, the Town of Monroe in its entirety is the largest consumer of social services in Orange County for benefits other than cash. Newburgh and Middletown, which are more economically disadvantaged, fared better as a percentage of population than did KJ.
At a minimum, the figures deserve far greater scrutiny and investigation, provided that our political leaders have the will to take such a stance. They should raise a flag that some level of fraud is occurring, or that the rules are being contorted to suit individual whims at the cost of the majority of taxpayers across New York. But this is New York, a state that has not only been tolerant of the Hasidic bloc vote, politicians have made it a point to curry favor to gain it. We expect that as taxpayers we’ll get shafted into footing the bill for those who are either working on the fringes of the law or overtly breaking it to suit their needs. Kiryas Joel has a long history in that regard, and politicians have had a long history of turning a convenient blind eye to what they’d rather not see.
It’s difficult to explain to the uninitiated how this happens, but whatever the Hasidic community wants, it seems able to get quite easily. Full Medicaid coverage for a large family when the average taxpayer has put off having children because they cannot afford it? Done. Subsidies for housing while most Orange County residents still live in homes with “underwater equity”? Not a problem for KJ. Ability to segregate public facilities by gender in violation of most civil liberties? We’d never get away with it, but somehow…they do.
And sadly it’s our tax dollars that make it possible, a fact lost on our Albany culture of corruption. So perhaps we should look at how our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, sees the Medicaid problem and what he’s doing about it?
We need only look as far as Cuomo’s most recent appointment. Meet Jim Introne. If the name sounds familiar, Introne has worked for a healthcare consulting firm and was originally part of Cuomo’s transition team in 2010 to early 2011. Introne now has control over $6 billion of Federal aid granted to New York. That’s pretty much what we expect from Albany anyway, and there’s likely very little chance that the $6 billion will make a significant difference in turning attention toward trimming fraud, waste and abuse.
In fact, as a percentage of population, New York spends more per person on Medicaid than any other state (data courtesy Kaiser Family Foundation). So we have a spending problem, but more importantly, we likely have a utilization problem as well and people receiving benefits who likely shouldn’t. And you as the taxpayer are footing that bill in some manner.
But sadly the release of the statistic barely raised an eyebrow where it could have been an opportunity for political will and ethics to take the spotlight. And with the potential for the expansion of Kiryas Joel into a larger community, it’s an issue our political leaders need to recognize as fundamentally a deal-breaker for those who lack the political will to address it.
The views expressed are our own. Responsible replies welcome.