Jason Chaffetz on new GOP plan: Poorer people may need to choose between that iPhone and investing in health care

It’s not that his underlying point, about prioritizing necessities over luxuries, is wrong. It’s that you don’t typically kick off a sales pitch by noting the things people might need to sacrifice in order to buy your product, especially if you’re asking them to sacrifice something they really enjoy. It’s like trying to get an audience to eat more fruits and vegetables by telling them not to own a TV and to plow that entertainment money into buying more fresh produce instead. You’re … not going to move much produce that way. Especially when a huge swath of the left, and maybe not just the left anymore, believes that health care should be “free” in the first place, especially for lower-income people.

Then there’s this problem:


The very poor have Medicaid, but for everyone else, health insurance is such a burdensome expense that you’ll need to forgo more than just an iPhone to cover the cost. (In fact, per Avik Roy, under the new GOP bill people who are just above the poverty line will get roughly half the value in benefits that people just below the poverty line, who qualify for Medicaid, will get.) The glib way that Chaffetz makes his point suggests that he thinks a core problem with coverage for working-class people is that too many consider Angry Birds to be more important than access to medical care. In reality, I’ll bet if you could guarantee them a year’s worth of coverage for their family for the price of an iPhone, most would gladly make that trade. It’s a weird comment to make given that the GOP is in the position it’s in right now only because working-class whites turned out en masse for a populist Republican president, one who’s been known to speak warmly of single-payer health care in the past.

Chaffetz isn’t the first major politician to discuss paying for health care in terms of sacrificing one’s iPhone, though. Remember this from 2013?

Mr. Obama told the youth leaders gathered that he’s not sure what the monthly cost of an iPhone is — “I am not allowed for security reasons to have an iPhone,” he said — but that he expects that the cost of health coverage on the new Obamacare marketplaces is comparable.

“The idea that you wouldn’t want to make sure that you’ve got the health security and financial security…you guys are smarter than that,” he said.

There are a lot of people for whom the cost of ObamaCare isn’t remotely comparable to the cost of a new smart phone, but it bears noting that Obama was directing his comments at young adults, not specifically at the poor. Pre-mandate, a young adult with a steady job might have the means to afford health insurance but decide to skip it because he or she rarely got sick. Those were exactly the type of enrollees O was desperate to sign up for ObamaCare — young people with enough dough to create a revenue stream for insurers while rarely availing themselves of medical treatment, whose money could be used to cover treatment for those with preexisting conditions. I don’t know that he was asking them to sacrifice their phones or anything else, either. His point seems more of the “If you can afford a phone, you can afford premiums too” variety. It’s cute, though, that he took time to try to sell young consumers on health insurance when he had a mandate in his back pocket that was going to force them to pay anyway.

By the way, just out of curiosity, I did some googling to see how much the poor spend on Apple products compared to the rich. This graph can’t possibly be accurate, can it?

The poorest Americans are spending roughly as much on Apple online each year as people who make $125-150,000? No way. This data from Pew on smart phone ownership seems more credible: A surprising number of lower-income Americans own a smart phone of some kind (52 percent), but the percentage increases steadily as income increases. Among people who make between $50-75,000 per year, 74 percent own a smart phone. Among those who make more than that, 87 percent do. The same goes for tablets, with the percentage who own one rising steadily with income. When it comes to computers, the share of people who make less than $30,000 a year who own one (50 percent) is much less than the share of any other income group. Which is to say, the poor are already doing without gadgets to some extent in order to pay for other stuff. And to the extent that they aren’t, some may consider Internet access more a necessity than a luxury these days.

Update: Chaffetz later told Fox that maybe he could have made his point more “smoothly” than he did.