Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz said in a CNN interview on Tuesday morning that low-income Americans will be able to afford health insurance under a Republican plan to replace Obamacare — as long as they don’t spend so much on things like iPhones.
The comparison is ridiculous and callous; smart phones are much cheaper than health care, and both can be a necessity, not a luxury, in modern life.
“You know what, Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice,” he said. “And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
While iPhones are among the priciest smartphones, they don’t come anywhere close to the cost of health insurance. Even the newest iPhone, off-contract, will cost someone around $700. The online health insurance dealer eHealth estimates that the average individual premium is currently about $393 a month — which means the cost of the brand new iPhone will on average net you less than two months worth of health insurance premiums.
And that’s assuming you don’t get sick. Especially with high-deductible plans, the cost of co-pays and deductibles can quickly become astronomical.
Unfortunately, the refrain that if the poor can afford basic consumer goods then they should be able to afford necessities is common among right-wing ideologues in the United States.
For example, the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that provides the basis of much of intellectual conservatism in the United States, put out a report in 2011 noting that the “typical poor household, as defined by the government, has a car and air conditioning, two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR.” It used these data points to conclude that “government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as ‘in poverty’ are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term.”
This ignores a fundamental reality of the modern age: consumer electronics like televisions have dramatically declined in price over the past few decades, becoming highly affordable, even as basic necessities like health care, child care, and housing have grown much more expensive.
Economist Mark Perry illustrated this divergence in price between necessities and products that were once luxuries:
The cell phone example Chaffetz used is particularly problematic because it ignores how important owning a smartphone can be to Americans who don’t otherwise have access to the internet.
For some Americans, a smart phone is a necessity to apply for jobs or pay bills. Pew Research Center data from 2014 found that 13 percent of Americans with incomes under $30,000 were “smartphone-dependent” — meaning their smartphone was their primary device to access the internet — as opposed to just 1 percent of people whose household income was over $75,000.
As for Chaffetz, my colleague Lee Fang pointed out that his Political Action Committee (PAC) pays the phone bill for his campaign, which totals over $300 a month to Verizon Wireless, and spent $738 at an Apple store.