What did Jesus really say?

Two months ago, this doctor was delivering babies. Now he’s at the nexus of the Obamacare fight

By Lev Facher
STAT, March 3, 2017

Dr. Roger Marshall was delivering babies in December. By January, he found himself across a breakfast table from Tom Price, offering emotional support to the Georgia congressman as he endured a contentious confirmation process to become the top health official in the new Trump administration.

Marshall, a few months ago just another doctor from Kansas, is now Congressman Roger Marshall.

Marshall has joined the GOP Doctors Caucus, a group of 16 lawmakers with health care backgrounds who have put themselves at the center of the effort to unwind the Affordable Care Act.

Marshall is as quick as any Republican to slam Obamacare, claiming firsthand experience of its effects from his time at Great Bend Regional Hospital in central Kansas. He helped grow the hospital from a four-bed surgical clinic to the full-service, physician-owned facility it is today.

Like many other Republicans, Marshall said he wants the health care system to rely on the free market rather than Obamacare’s regulations. He measures success in how many people can afford to leave the Medicaid program and enter the private insurance market.

The law’s Medicaid expansion, which Kansas has not adopted despite support from many hospitals, including some of Marshall’s former colleagues, is one of the big sticking points for Republicans. Many GOP-led states adopted it and want to see it preserved in some form.

Marshall doesn’t believe it has helped, an outlook that sheds light on how this new player in Washington understands health policy.

“Just like Jesus said, ‘The poor will always be with us,’” he said. “There is a group of people that just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”


Old Testament

Deuteronomy 15:11

11 For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.

New Testament

Mark 14:1-10

1 It was now two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest him by stealth, and kill him; 2 for they said, "Not during the feast, lest there be a tumult of the people." 3 And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. 4 But there were some who said to themselves indignantly, "Why was the ointment thus wasted? 5 For this ointment might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and given to the poor." And they reproached her. 6 But Jesus said, "Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burying. 9 And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her." 10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

Dr. Roger Marshall, freshman congressman from Kansas, has already exposed his compromised sense of medical ethics by participating in the establishment of a for-profit, physician-owned private hospital - a prime example of the perversities of the medical-industrial complex. But then he had to bring Jesus into it, saying, “The poor will always be with us.” Marshall says that he doesn’t believe that Medicaid has helped the poor because they “just don’t want health care and aren’t going to take care of themselves.”

In the Old Testament, the Scriptures record that the Lord said, “For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land.”

In the New Testament, which presumably is Marshall’s source in the Scriptures since he was quoting the words of Jesus himself, Jesus did say, “For you always have the poor with you…”  But Jesus continued (conveniently omitted by Marshall), “… and whenever you will, you can do good to them.” It seems as though Marshall does not will to do good to the poor. (Though, in context, would Marshall have thought the ointment was wasted? Probably not if it would otherwise have gone to the poor - a point with which those writing or translating the Scriptures thought Jesus might agree. An enigma.)

What I knew about Jesus was derived mostly in my childhood when I attended the Pilgrim Congregational Church in Pomona, California (choir practice on Tuesdays, Boys Brigade on Thursdays, Sunday School Sunday mornings followed by singing in the children’ choir in our church services). I have been forever grateful for the  moral lessons that I learned from the Scriptures, including from the words of Jesus. In my earlier years of awakening I was saddened to see that some of the elders in our church - some of the wealthiest people in town - did not seem to have a commitment to what my perceptions were of what Jesus was trying to teach us, so I left the church. My salvation is that I have found that these moral principles hold just as solidly in the secular world and are practiced by my friends in the social justice movement regardless of their personal religious beliefs or lack thereof. Truth is truth, and fundamental morality exceeds all boundaries.

But when a physician - a profession with ethics dating back to the Hippocratic traditions - uses the words of Jesus to tell us that Medicaid - a public program to help the poor with medical needs - has not helped since they don’t want health care and are not going to take care of themselves anyway, then he must be a hypocrite. Jesus would have turned over the tables in the business offices of his physician-owned hospital. We certainly do not want him, nor his colleagues of like mind, making moral judgements as to how legislation defining how to finance health care for all in America should be crafted.