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Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) talks to reporters before attending a lunch with fellow Senate Republicans at the U.S. Capitol January 22, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Saying 'Underlying Premise' of For-Profit System Out Loud, GOP Staffer Punished for Telling Constituent People Don't Deserve Healthcare They Can't Afford

The staffer for North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis compared obtaining healthcare in the U.S. to purchasing new clothes, telling a three-time cancer survivor, "If I can't afford that dress shirt, I don't get to get it."

Jake Johnson

A staffer for Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has been disciplined for straightforwardly telling a North Carolina constituent and three-time cancer survivor that a person's inability to afford health insurance means they don't deserve it, an argument that critics said accurately summarizes the callous and inhumane healthcare agenda of the entire GOP—and, in fact, many leading Democrats too.

"This isn't a story about a rude person in Thom Tillis' office, this is a staffer accurately describing the Republican approach to healthcare."
—Tommy Vietor, Crooked Media

When Bev Veals recently called Tillis' Washington, D.C. office seeking help over concerns that she could lose her insurance during the pandemic, the staffer who answered said obtaining healthcare in the United States is "just like if I want to go to the store and buy a new dress shirt."

"If I can't afford that dress shirt, I don't get to get it," said the staffer, whose remarks Veals recorded on her cellphone.

"Well, you got to find a way to get it," the staffer said after Veals replied that "healthcare is something that people need, especially if they have cancer."

In response to the exchange, journalist David Klion tweeted, "By all means, get mad at this sociopathic Tillis staffer, but he's just saying out loud what the underlying premise of our healthcare system has been and will be until we remove the profit motive from it, which all Republicans and most leading Democrats oppose doing."

While appalled by the Tillis staffer's uncaring tone, observers characterized the substance of his comments as a concise and factual depiction of the practical consequences of Republican healthcare policy.

Tillis, who is up for reelection in November, has voted seven times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the law's expansion of Medicaid, a move that would strip healthcare coverage from tens of millions of Americans.

"Thom Tillis staffer sums up his boss' views on healthcare: If you get sick without health coverage then tough luck," tweeted North Carolina state Sen. Wiley Nickel, a Democrat.

Podcast host and Crooked Media founder Tommy Vietor echoed Nickel, writing, "This isn't a story about a rude person in Thom Tillis' office, this is a staffer accurately describing the Republican approach to healthcare."

But as Klion noted, Democrats who continue to oppose Medicare for All in favor of a for-profit system that determines access to quality care on the basis of a person's ability to afford it are hardly immune from the same line of criticism.

"If you think Obamacare with modest tweaks is an adequate system then you agree with this guy," tweeted Klion, "you're just too polite to say what he said."

A spokesperson for Tillis said in a statement Tuesday that "immediate disciplinary action has been taken" against the staffer who answered Veals' call.

"The way Mrs. Veals was talked to by a staff assistant in our Washington office was completely inappropriate and violates the code of conduct Senator Tillis has for his staff," said the spokesperson.

But Veals, who told a local North Carolina NBC affiliate that she has been forced to tap into her retirement savings to afford insurance payments, said she wants much more than an apology from Tillis'—and every other U.S. lawmaker.

"We need our legislators to listen to us and help us solve this problem because it's not just my problem—not being able to afford healthcare," she said. "It's the problem of hundreds and thousands of North Carolinians."

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