Bernie Sanders Lectures HHS Nominee on USA: ‘No, We're Not a Compassionate Society!’

By Susan Jones | January 18, 2017 | 12:28pm EST
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) delivers his opening statement at a "courtesy hearing" held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. The Senate Finance Committee will hold Price's official confirmation hearing next week. (Photo: Screen grab from C-SPAN)

( - “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,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday.

Price, the orthopedic surgeon nominated to serve as Health and Human Services secretary, was granted a "courtesy hearing" by the panel to discuss the health aspects of the position to which he's been named. The Senate Finance Committee will hold Price's official confirmation hearing next week.

“Do you believe health care is a right of all Americans, whether they’re rich or they’re poor?” Sanders asked him. “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 snapped. “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.”

Sanders then repeated his question about whether the U.S. should “move in the direction” of making health care a right for all Americans.

Price noted there are consequences to the health care decisions that other countries make, just as there are consequences to the decisions that the U.S. makes.  “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.

Price said he believes it’s “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.”

Later in the hearing, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a fellow physician, took issue with Sanders’ comments, without mentioning the senator by name.

“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.

“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?” Paul asked Price.

“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.”

Paul said it's “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."

Paul also noted that in 2014, “We (Americans) gave away $400 billion privately -- not the government -- individually, through churches and to charities. We’re an incredibly compassionate society.”

Paul also said that compassion extends to other countries, as many physicians go on international trips to do charity work.

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