Following the trail of angry liberals on social media, Jack Healy in Sunday’s New York Times attacked a comment by Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah suggesting people should invest in their own health care instead of buying the new IPhone. Healy defended the necessity of having a cell “Having No Insurance Is Hard, Families Say. No Phone? Unthinkable.” Healy even found a racial angle, even though President Barack Obama has used the same cell phone talking point in the past. Needless to say, the president wasn’t accused of anti-black racism when he made the same point.
Healy focused on the Hunters, a struggling family of five in Utah:
As the health care debate thundered away in Washington, Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah stirred up a social media squall the other day by suggesting that uninsured Americans should invest in their own health care “rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love.”
Here in Mr. Chaffetz’s solidly Republican district, one of those uninsured Americans watched the viral CNN interview on -- what else? -- her cellphone. Not a new iPhone, though, but a Samsung with a cracked screen, one that Shari Hunter and her husband, Anthony, bought with their tax refunds two years ago.
“An iPhone and insurance are not the same thing at all,” Ms. Hunter, 32, 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?”
To Mr. Chaffetz’s supporters, his comments sounded like a tough-love defense of individual responsibility in the midst of a knockdown debate over the government’s role in providing health care to Americans. To his critics, they sounded like a callous and obtuse dismissal of the hard choices that struggling families face every day -- and one that echoed earlier, racially noxious arguments over “welfare queens” and criticisms of programs that helped provide phone service to poor people.
Yet President Barack Obama has used the same cell phone talking point as Chaffetz:
I am not allowed for security reasons to have an iPhone...The idea that you wouldn't want to make sure that you've got the health security and financial security [before you purchase an iPhone]...you guys are smarter than that.
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And here’s Obama at a town hall in 2014 responding to a questioner who didn’t think he could afford Obamacare:
"I guess what I would say is if you looked at that person's budget, and you looked at their cable bill, their telephone, their cell phone bill, other things that they're spending on, it may turn out that it's just--they haven't prioritized healthcare because right now, everybody's healthy. Nobody actually wants to spend money on health insurance until they get sick."
The Times learned hard on the sympathy card.
The Hunters have thought plenty about trying to cut out the $100 they spend on cellphone service every month. Yes, they said, it’s a lot, especially when they don’t have health insurance and they stretch the last dollars from their $1,800 monthly income to buy diapers and gasoline.
But the cellphone tethers the couple together when Mr. Hunter leaves for his nearly $13-an-hour job at a call center and Ms. Hunter stays home with their three children -- 9, 4 and 3 years old -- here in the Utah Valley. They chat on his 15-minute breaks. It pains Mr. Hunter to be away from the children, so Ms. Hunter texts him photos of them making a snowman or playing on the backyard swing set. He sends her inspirational quotes from elders in the Mormon Church, to which they are both devoted.
The Hunters said they voted for Mr. Chaffetz in November, but Mr. Hunter said his comment sounded like something a “well-off person” would say -- not a parent receiving food stamps, whose children are covered by Medicaid and who usually has $86 left over after paying the month’s mortgage and other bills.
Here in the heavily Mormon cities that run along the snow-glazed Wasatch Range, several of Mr. Chaffetz’s uninsured constituents said that, of course, they would love to be rid of the cellphone bills that cost their families $30, $50, $100 every month. But they said the savings would hardly be enough to afford monthly health plans for their families.
And how would they get by without their phones?