Rep. Jason Chaffetz attempted to sell the new Republican healthcare plan on Tuesday by asking Americans to purchase health insurance instead of buying an iPhone.
Appearing on CNN’s “New Day,” the Utah Republican dismissed questions about whether fewer Americans would be covered by the GOP’s replacement of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
“Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. 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 healthcare,” Chaffetz said. “They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.”
Chaffetz did not answer whether the new GOP plan would require lower-income Americans to make sacrifices, but he said that “with more choice, you will get a better product at a lower price.”
Some observers said that while a new iPhone without a contract rarely costs more than $600, the US healthcare system costs more than $10,000 per person on average every year. This number can be slightly misleading, as spending varies wildly among people, with just 5% of the population accounting for half of all healthcare spending.
Appearing on Fox News later Tuesday morning, Chaffetz expressed slight regret about his choice of words but stood by the sentiment that Americans needed to prioritize their health insurance.
“Maybe I didn’t say that as smoothly as I possibly could,” he said. “But people need to make a conscious choice, and I believe in self-reliance, and they’re going to have to make those decisions.
“Sometimes you have to make some decisions in your life and where to make those investments,” he added.
He pointed to the bill’s proposed elimination of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which requires people who would not end up paying more than 8% of their monthly income for health insurance to purchase the minimum policy or face tax penalties. The plan would also eliminate the mandate requiring large employers to offer coverage to full-time employees. The individual mandate was designed to compel Americans to seek health insurance while ensuring that the markets weren’t flooded with sicker people, which drives up the cost of insurance.
Instead of complying with the individual mandate, insurance companies would be allowed under the GOP plan to charge 30% higher premiums for people who had gone 63 days without health insurance.
The plan, which the House released on Monday, would make several changes to the current law, such as eliminating taxes on higher-income earners as well as income-based tax credits and the Medicaid expansion that many states have adopted. Instead, the plan would create per-capita caps for Medicaid and new refundable tax credits for several age groups.
The proposal would keep some popular Obamacare initiatives in place, such as allowing Americans up to age 26 to stay on their parents’ healthcare plans.
But it also would tweak other portions, such as allowing insurance companies to charge older Americans five times as much as what younger Americans pay. Obamacare permits insurers to charge three times as much as what younger Americans pay.
Chaffetz’s comments immediately drew criticism from some Democrats.
“Jason Chaffetz and Donald Trump want to cut healthcare coverage for low-income Americans to pay for tax breaks for wealthy insurance company executives,” Shripal Shah, the vice president of the Democratic PAC American Bridge, said in a statement. “To make matters worse, Chaffetz, whose own healthcare is taxpayer-subsidized, is so out of touch with working Americans that he doesn’t realize the healthcare cost burden shouldered by his constituents isn’t as trivial as the price of a new cellphone.”
The plan itself has faced almost universal opposition from congressional Democrats, and some conservatives are wary of it.
Sen. Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, argued that the proposal would not do enough to drive down costs.
Th House leadership plan is Obamacare Lite. It will not pass. Conservarives are not going to take it. #FullRepeal
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) March 7, 2017