Opinion: Chaffetz’s iPhone Remark More Than Just a Gaffe

Woman protests against Jason Chaffetz at the #deathwithdignity Rally in Washington D.C. on Feb. 13. Photo by Ted Eytan licensed under CC BY 2.0

By Amanda Lucidi
BU News Service

Republican lawmaker, Jason Chaffetz, has defended the replacement of the Affordable Care Act by suggesting that costs for those who cannot afford healthcare be remedied by sacrificing purchases like iPhones.

His logic in lending such a suggestion is that Americans have choices. Choices like between healthcare or iPhones. Tighten your belts, America! Wake up! As if the recession has not already left Americans sacrificing already and as if the root of the lack of accessibility to healthcare is from poor decision-making about people’s purchases.

If the trade between an electronic and affordable healthcare was as simple as abstaining from a single purchase, or even a handful of purchases, I think we would have all pretty much wiped our hands with the healthcare issue. But we are not trading lunch bags in an elementary school cafeteria.

It was a bold statement about healthcare to make when the official estimates from the Congressional Budget Office on the cost of the bill have not been made.

If the costs of the bill bring a middle class family into poverty, will the decision be between healthcare and an iPhone? If your costs are higher than a lower class family can make, do you think a mother wants to pay for the extra data a month to Snapchat, or do you think she wants to ensure her children are healthy?

Sure, we all have choices, but what exists within an individual’s pool of choices differs vastly from one another.  Some are deciding whether or to spend their extra cash on a new iPhone. Yet, some families are making choices about whether or not to move because their rent keeps spiking and their paychecks aren’t growing at the same pace.

After backlash about this commentary, Chaffetz responded that he did not phrase his responses as eloquently as he would have liked.  I believe that. It’s pretty evident he didn’t. I’m sure everyone can think of those moments.

But the problem is not that we shouldn’t take the suggestion to sacrifice purchases like iPhones literally, the problem is that Chaffetz has exposed a complete lack of understanding about what an American’s day to day expenses look like, especially those in the lowest income brackets.  Especially those who are struggling the most and especially those who need good healthcare the most.

These kinds of comments demonize and marginalize the people with the least amount of access in this country. Create a system where these people can succeed, Chaffetz. Show you understand the lives of the people you are impacting. Their ignorance is not the problem, yours is.

Though we cannot apply his commentary to all lawmakers in the country, it illuminates the larger issue— that we do not understand our own country.

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