WASHINGTON — Congressman Roger Marshall of Kansas is distancing himself from comments he made recently to STAT about poor patients and their health care, which garnered considerable backlash.
In a recent interview, discussing the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, Marshall, a Republican, said: “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.”
Those comments wound up on Fox News and MSNBC, as well as the Washington Post and New York magazine. Marshall, a doctor before he was elected to Congress last year, also faced criticism from groups that advocate for people on Medicaid.
“I can’t understand how a physician would not already have a fundamental understanding of that issue, but it doesn’t feel like he does,” Sean Gatewood, whose organization represents people in Kansas’s Medicaid program, told the Kansas City Star.
Under such criticism, Marshall’s office sought to soften his tone and pointed to his decades of experience helping to oversee free family clinics.
“I’m a physician, not a politician,” his office said in a statement to the Star this week. “While I don’t perfectly rehearse talking points, my agenda is driven by two realities: That Obamacare has been detrimental to patients and that we must care for all in need, no matter what.”
Amid a fierce fight over the Affordable Care Act and its future, Marshall and other House Republicans have run into trouble with their language. Earlier this week, Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah took heat for suggesting families struggling to pay for health insurance could simply forego buying an iPhone.
In Marshall’s statement clarifying his remarks, he tried to put them in a broader context.
“I was explaining that we cannot build a national healthcare policy around any one segment of the population,” his office wrote. “Each segment has a different set of needs and utilize vastly different healthcare resources. I was also saying that Obamacare has increased premiums on working, middle-class families by almost 200% in some places, and with deductibles of over $10,000, many don’t actually have access to healthcare. Coverage means nothing if you can’t afford the access.
“When I said ‘The poor will always be with us,’ it was actually in the context of supporting the obligation we have to always take care of people, but we cannot completely craft a larger, affordable health care policy around a comparatively small segment of the population who will get care no matter what.”