Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz sparked fury online Tuesday after saying Americans may have to choose between buying a new iPhone and health insurance – yet the criticism glossed over similar remarks made by then-President Barack Obama.
Chaffetz was speaking after House Republicans revealed their plan to replace ObamaCare. Responding to claims the plan doesn’t guarantee access to care for low-income Americans, he said:
"Well, we're getting rid of the individual mandate. We're getting rid of those things that people said that they don't want. ... Americans have choices, and they've got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
Chaffetz’s remarks to CNN sparked a firestorm on social media as “iPhones” quickly became a top trending topic, as did “TrumpCare.”
Chaffetz's phone comment reveals truth behind this plan: GOP is literally wiling to let poor people die because they think they're greedy.— Jared Yates Sexton (@JYSexton) March 7, 2017
Pick one. Healthcare or a way to contact your family. Chaffetz says you can't have both! pic.twitter.com/AJ2yc1zHkm— Jordan Uhl (@JordanUhl) March 7, 2017
The controversy was widely reported, with some outlets expressing outrage at the congressman’s comments.
The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote that Chaffetz’s comment “revives the ‘poverty is a choice’ argument." Meanwhile, Slate declared: “GOP’s most embarrassing Congressman strikes again” while Yahoo News went so far as to break down the exact cost of an iPhone, both for a Verizon contract and an AT&T contract, to compare the cost to health insurance.
Yet left unsaid was that Obama made similar comments in 2014. In a town hall meeting with Spanish-language outlets, Obama was asked about a man who had written in saying he still couldn’t afford insurance.
In a lengthy answer, Obama speculated about someone making $40,000-$50,000 a year, who thinks an insurance option that costs $300 a month is too much.
“I guess what I would say is if you looked at that person’s budget and you looked at their cable bill, their telephone … cell phone bill, other things that they’re spending on, it may turn out that they just haven’t prioritized health care because right now everybody is healthy," he said.
“Nobody actually wants to spend money on health insurance until they get sick,” he added.
Chaffetz later clarified his comments on Fox News’ "America’s Newsroom," and conceded he didn’t make his remarks “as smoothly” as he could.
"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," he said. "And they're going to have to make those decisions."