Congress will be with us always, but our representatives could do themselves and their constituents a favor if they stopped indulging in the mistaken notion that low-income families are coddled in this country, living on more government largesse than is good for them.
Remarks from U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall about how poor people don’t want health care made Americans from across the land wonder how a doctor, of all people, could possibly have come to believe that, as Marshall put it, “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.”
The OB-GYN from Great Bend kept on walking down this same wrong road: “I think just morally, spiritually, socially,” he said, homeless people are among those who “just don’t want health care.” Those on Medicaid, who he said can run up health care charges on “a free credit card, as a group, do probably the least preventive medicine and taking care of themselves and eating healthy and exercising. … So there’s a group of people that even with unlimited access to health care are only going to use the emergency room when their arm is chopped off or when their pneumonia is so bad” they have no choice but to go to the ER.
Since healthy food is more expensive, yes, low-income families do have a harder time eating well on a budget. But Medicaid is far from a “free credit card.” Most Americans on it do see a doctor in any given year and are not indifferent to their own lives or those of their loved ones. And he really should not have pinned his misimpressions on Jesus.
The new Kansas congressman later explained that as someone who has spent most of his working life treating Medicaid patients “regardless of their ability to pay,” he wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t care for the poor, but that 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.”
It really is laudable that Marshall treats Medicaid patients, but many doctors do not, saying that they can’t afford to, and it’s simply not true that they will get care “no matter what.”
In this same counter-factual vein, his fellow Republican, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah suggested this week that low-income families worried about losing insurance coverage under the proposed GOP replacement plan for the Affordable Care Act could just pay for the coverage with a little creative budgeting — and the sacrifice of an iPhone. “You know what?” Chaffetz said on CNN, “Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. Maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love, and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
All of these comments are in keeping with Ronald Reagan’s story about the “welfare queen” who he said drove a Cadillac to pick up her benefits, and of the widely cited report from the conservative Heritage Foundation that said many of those living in poverty in our country are “not poor in an ordinary sense of the term” because they own refrigerators, stoves, televisions and microwaves. It’s what drives all of the efforts to subject those getting benefits to drug screening and why several pages of the GOP health care proposal involve making sure that lottery winners can’t receive Medicaid, as if that’s a problem we can’t take lightly.
Those public officials who seem to suffer from a certain poverty of spirit should stop trying to humiliate the poor and instead try to figure out how to provide the same excellent health care coverage that members of Congress enjoy to those they serve. Meanwhile, in recycling trash talk about those they ought to be supporting rather than denigrating, they’re only embarrassing themselves.