GOP Says Poor People Need to Choose: Health Insurance or a Smart Phone?

Utah Rep. Jason Caffestz Says Poor People Need to Choose: Health Insurance or a Smart Phone?

According to a Republican Representative from Utah, Jason Chaffetz, poor people might have to choice between having health insurance or having a cell phone.

The New York Times interviewed several individuals in Springville, Utah after Chaffetz suggested on CNN's New Day that Americans should invest in healthcare, rather than buying the new iPhone that they “just love.”

“Well, we're getting rid of the individual mandate. We're getting rid of those things that people said that they don't want. And 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 go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They've got to make those decisions themselves.”

Needless to say, after the NY Times interviewees — a two-parent household, a single mother, and a 61-year old man — shared their experiences on being poor, it was clear that cells phones were a necessity to make a living in the first place. One being 32-year old Shari Hunter, who has no health insurance and recently bought a smart phone with a broken screen from the money she received from her tax return. “An iPhone and insurance are not the same thing at all,” she said. “If you need to be able to decide between an iPhone and health insurance, you need to look at: Why is that the choice?”

Why is Hunter's representative saying it’s a Sophie's choice?

According to a 2015 Pew Research poll, over 64 percent of American adults own smartphones. Of that number, 54 percent do not replace their phones until they stop working or become obsolete. Additionally, it showed that 51 percent of working Americans made 30K or less a year.

It seems to me that Chaffetz must be missing something. For the most part, people aren’t dropping huge amounts of money to stay up with the latest trends—well I’m sure someone is, but your everyday person is not. And the people Chaffetz is trying to reach are definitely not.

People need cell phones to keep in contact with families and ensure they continue to have secure sources of income. In this digitally obsessed world, it’s almost impossible to find a job that doesn’t require a cell phone. And let’s not forget, to be able to afford health insurance in the first place, don’t we need a job?

Allow me to digress…

Like most poor folks, my rent is more than 25 percent of my monthly income. I have debts that I have to pay off, food to buy, and a phone to pay for. If it weren’t for Medicaid, I wouldn’t have insurance. Most of my friends don’t have insurance.

Most folks I run into while running errands or going to events (yes, even though I’m a poor woman, I still find time to go to events) don’t have health insurance. And you know why? Because we can think of other things that we need, and sometimes want, to spend our money on to ensure overall health and wellbeing.

In regards to the NY Times piece, most of the individuals interviewed had only 80 to 100 dollars left after paying their monthly expenses. No one wants to make healthcare an added burden. Choosing home remedies over trips to the doctor’s office have become more desirable. Those with kids have made sure to keep them covered under Medicaid, but for adults it’s not so easy.

It goes without saying, Chaffetz should let individuals make their own life choices and stop shaming poor people for doing what they have to do to get by. But, he probably doesn’t know what that feels like because maybe he’s never felt what it’s like to “get by.” 

Not soon after he got flack from Twitter protesters, and even House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who said his remarks were "offensive" and showed "a lack of both understanding and compassion," Chaffetz appeared on the Fox News show America's Newsroom and retracted the statement. 

"What we're trying to say -- and maybe I didn't say it as smoothly as I possibly could," he started, "but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance. And they're going to have to make those decisions."

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