Incoming health secretary Tom Price has been kept out of the loop on Donald Trump’s plan to replace Obamacare and therefore could not tell the Senate how millions of people would retain healthcare insurance.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders would not let the practising physician off the hook, however.
The former presidential candidate asked Mr Price whether he believed that every American had the right to health care, to go to a hospital if they needed to, regardless of their income.
"We are a compassionate society…" Mr Price started.
"No we are not a compassionate society," interrupted Mr Sanders.
"In terms of our relationship to poor and working people our record is worse than virtually any other country on earth," he continued. "We have the highest rate of child poverty than any other major country on earth; our senior, older workers have nothing set aside for retirement, so I don’t think, compared to other countries, we are particularly compassionate."
Mr Price responded that he wanted to ensure that every American had the "financial feasibility" to purchase the health care coverage of their choice, and that "nobody’s interested in pulling the rug out from under anybody".
The US is the only major, developed country on earth that does not guarantee its citizens health care. As Republicans move ahead to repeal the Affordable Care Act without a solid replacement plan, Democrats have warned that as many as 30 million people could lose their healthcare.
Mr Price said at the hearing that it was "fair" that repeal and replace would happen simultaneously, as President-elect Trump had proposed.
Mr Price defended his investments in private health care companies, saying, "Everything that we have done has been above-board, transparent, ethical and legal."
Democratic senator Patty Murray then quizzed Mr Price on his thousands of dollars worth of investment in a company called Immunotherapeutics, which she accused him of purchasing after receiving a "stock tip" from GOP representative Chris Collins.
"I believe it’s inappropriate and we need answers regarding this, whether you and Congressman Collins used your access to non-public information when you bought at prices that were unavailable to the public," she said.
Mr Price denied buying the stock after receiving information about the companies that would put him at an advantage, and said his “discounted” price was simply the result of a private placement offered to a select group of investors.
Senator Al Franken accused Mr Price of making financial gains in tobacco stocks, and tobacco was the leading cause of preventable death in the US.
"Between 1993 and 2012, you were a shareholder of tobacco. Big tobacco companies. Meaning that you personally benefited from tobacco sales. Meanwhile, you voted against landmark legislation in 2009 that gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco," Mr Franken said.
"Congressman Price, You're a physician which means you took the Hippocratic oath — a pledge to do no harm. How do you square reaping personal financial gains from sales of an addictive product that kills millions of Americans every decade with also voting against measures to reduce the death toll inflicted by tobacco?"
Mr Price responded that he did not know what stocks he owned in the 1990s, which Mr Franken said he did not believe.
The incoming health secretary was also grilled on his position on Planned Parenthood, which provides overall health care to millions of people, as well as employers firing women who use their healthcare coverage to purchase birth control.
Virginia senator Tim Kaine spoke of the "fear and anxiety" felt by millions of people over whether they would lose their health care - a paradox faced by a Republican administration that has promised to put the health of its nation as a priority.
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