Jason Chaffetz's iPhone Comment Is A Fundamental Misunderstanding Of Poverty
House Oversight Committee Chairman and Republican politician Jason Chaffetz said on Monday that the healthcare plan offered by House Republicans will allow Americans at every income level the opportunity to afford healthcare. But he also shamed people who might choose to pay for something like a cell phone to communicate with friends, family, and even, say, potential employers, if they can't afford healthcare, particularly under the new plan that was just unveiled. Jason Chaffetz said people shouldn't buy iPhones if they can't afford healthcare, and he couldn't be more wrong with his assumptions about poverty and healthcare access. Chaffetz's office didn't immediately respond to Romper's request for comment.
Update: Chaffetz later pulled back on his comments on Tuesday afternoon. On Fox's "American Newsroom," Chaffetz said:
What we're trying to say -- and maybe I didn't say it as smoothly as I possibly could -- but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance. And they're going to have to make those decisions.
On CNN's New Day, Chaffetz said:
Americans have choices. And they've got to make a choice. And so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They've got to make those decisions themselves.
His comments beg the question: in one of the wealthiest nations in the world, should we even have to make the decision between having a cell phone, and being able to see a doctor when we're sick? (This is besides the fact that poverty doesn't work the way Chaffetz implied anyway.)
Twitter user @JordanUhl mocked Chaffetz comments by captioning a video of his statement, tweeting, "Pick one. Healthcare or a way to contact your family. Chaffetz says you can't have both!"
According to Politico, Chaffetz said that the plan Republicans have drawn up could mean, "more access, but possibly less coverage," when it comes to healthcare, as anchor Alisyn Camerota questioned. His exact reply to that suggestion was: "I think that's fair." So not only could consumers get less coverage under the plan, Chaffetz agrees with the fact that Americans should also have to give up more in order to afford it.
So let's unpack what Chaffetz comments about people having to choose between an iPhone and health insurance mean. First off, there really is no comparison between the costs of the two. As Sean Gentille at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted, "jason chaffetz knows how much an iPhone costs. he knows how much healthcare costs. he is willfully lying."
Philip Bump over at the Washington Post laid out a counter-argument to Chaffetz comments based on costs:
For one, an iPhone can be a one-time cost, while health-care spending is recurring. For another, the cost of a new phone pales in comparison to the cost of health care or health insurance...a new, unsubsidized iPhone is at the pricier end of the cellphone cost scale, at about $700. But a year of health insurance for an individual is more than $6,000. Put another way, an iPhone is only slightly more than a month of insurance.
What else might Chaffetz suggest people should give up in order to afford pricey healthcare? Visiting family, since that would cost more than being able to call them on an iPhone?
As Former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores pointed out on Twitter, this sort of shaming of the poor is nothing new in politics. "The myth of the #WelfareQueen endures- R's like Chaffetz believe the poor are off on shopping sprees rather than buying healthcare #Ignorant"
As Jack Holmes pointed out on Esquire, Chaffetz will never have to make a choice between healthcare and owning a cell phone, because his healthcare is subsidized by taxpayers, and he makes $174,000 a year. So not only are Chaffetz's comments ludicrous, they are woefully out of touch with the typical experience of an American consumer.
The Washington Post also pointed out that, in fact, in this day and age, a smartphone isn't a luxury: "it’s a critical tool of modern society. The newest iPhone isn’t critical, but some smartphone is, particularly in households without Internet access otherwise."
How much harder is it to stay connected to family or friends, or your employer, if you don't have a smartphone? Or, if you don't have a job, how much more difficult is it to find one if you don't have a way to easily be accessible to potential employers via a phone call or email on-the-go? Why imply that people of a lower-income status should be punished with losing such a critical tool, the costs of which won't make up for the costs of healthcare anyway? Chaffetz's comment showed a lack of understanding of the needs of low-income Americans, and his comment also scapegoats them to try to sell a healthcare plan that will actually cost more for most Americans.
On a personal note, when I got an iPhone, I only accepted it because it was free, versus paying to repair an older phone when I didn't have the money that month to do so. As the Washington Post pointed out, "the government provides subsidies for phone and Internet service to those who participate in welfare programs," because (some) officials recognize the necessity of staying connected, even or especially if you are on a strict budget.
As writer Jared Yates Sexton tweeted, "Chaffetz's phone comment reveals truth behind this plan: GOP is literally wiling to let poor people die because they think they're greedy."
Poor people aren't demanding iPhones and willfully turning down good, affordable healthcare in exchange. This is not about greed — it's about access to care in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, and the fact that Chaffetz seems to think people should have to give things up that provide a needed service in today's world, in exchange for less coverage with their health care needs. He could not be more wrong in his assumptions and his comparison.
If you're interested in contacting Chaffetz with a response to his comments, he can be contacted here. But apparently, he only welcomes feedback from residents from within his district, so you'll need to plug in a zip code from the area in order to contact him. Or you can check him out on Twitter at @jasoninthehouse.