Family physicians were dismayed to read recent comments from U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Great Bend, when asked about Medicaid expansion. He stated: “Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us.’ … There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”
It’s clear that Jesus’ words, when understood in their original context, were meant to spur generosity towards the poor, not apathy and tight-fistedness. Jesus’ comment, “the poor will always be with us,” referred to this passage from the Torah:
“For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:11).
Jesus was rebuking Judas, who criticized a woman for anointing Jesus with expensive oil. Judas’ criticism was intended to line his pockets, not provide help for the poor.
Where do Marshall’s 1st District residents fit into his characterization of the poor?
▪ Population: 715,330
▪ Enrollees in the health care marketplace: 19,300 (16,200 who have premium tax credits, and 1,200 who have cost-sharing reductions).
▪ Drop in the uninsured rate from 2013 to 2015 in the district: from 11.6 percent to 9.3 percent.
▪ Uninsured as of 2015: 66,500 (still too many).
▪ Medium income: $48,559
▪ Percentage below the federal poverty level: 13.7 percent (98,000).
As family physicians, we care for low-income Medicaid recipients and the uninsured every day. They are our neighbors. They are Marshall’s constituents. He was elected to represent all residents in his district, not just those in upper-income brackets, not just those with health insurance, and not just those who voted for him.
This is not the time to use scriptural quotes inappropriately to speak ill of the poor. We need to work together on solutions that provide health care to benefit all Kansans.
Diane Steere of Wichita is board chair of the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians.