Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Trump’s pick to serve as Secretary of Health and Human Services faced hostile questions from Democrats at today’s “courtesy hearing” in the Senate on the health aspects of the job. In particular, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked questions and made statements that revealed hostility to the nominee. Sanders said, “Congressman Price, the United States of America is the only major country on earth that does not guarantee health care to all people as a right.” Price is an orthopedic surgeon.
“Do you believe health care is a right of all Americans, whether they’re rich or they’re poor?” Sanders asked Price. “Should people, because they are Americans, be able to go to the doctor when they need to, be able to go into a hospital -- because they are Americans?”
“Yes, we’re a compassionate society--” Price started to say.
“No, we’re not a compassionate society!” Sanders said with emotion. “In terms of our relationship to poor and working people, our record is worse than virtually any other country on earth. We have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any other major country on earth. And half of our senior, older workers have nothing set aside for retirement. So I don’t think, compared to other countries, we are particularly compassionate.”
When Sanders repeated his question about whether the U.S. should “move in the direction” of making healthcare a right, Price answered that there are consequences to the health care decisions that other countries make, just as there are consequences to the decisions made domestically. “I look forward to working with you to make sure that every single American has access to the highest quality care and coverage that is possible,” Price added.
“’Access’ doesn’t guarantee health care,” Sanders said. To this Price, said he believes that it is “appropriate to put in place a system that gives every person the financial feasibility to be able to purchase the coverage that they want for themselves and for their family – again, not what the government forces them to buy.”
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a fellow physician, later appeared to criticize Sanders without naming him. “It’s also been insinuated that America is this horrible, rotten place, you know, that we don’t have compassion, and I guess by extension, the physicians don’t.” Paul asked, “But as you worked as an emergency room physician or as you worked as a physician, did you always agree -- as part of your engagement with the hospital --to treat all comers, regardless of whether they had an ability to pay?”
Price answered, “That’s one of the things we pride ourselves upon,” Price responded, “and that is that anybody that showed up in need of care was provided that care, and that was true not only in our residency but in our private orthopedic practice as well.” In a philosophical vein, Paul said that he finds it “interesting that those who say we have no compassion extol the virtues of socialism. And you look at country like Venezuela, with great resources, and it’s an utter disaster where people can’t eat, devolving into violence. “And you know, I think it is important that we have a debate in our country between socialism and communism and America and capitalism." He extolled the fact that in 2014, private Americans, not the government, gave away $400 billion. “We’re an incredibly compassionate society.” Paul added that Americans’ compassion is seen in other countries, where American physicians travel to provide free medical care.