U.S. congressman stirs backlash over healthcare versus iPhone comment

File Photo: Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Jason Chaffetz (R-CA) before testimony on the "Oversight of the State Department" in Washington

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Republican congressman who said on Tuesday that some Americans should choose between spending on a new iPhone and healthcare sparked a social media backlash from people who accused him of being out of touch.

Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah stepped into a minefield on CNN as he defended a Republican plan in the House of Representatives that would replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare. The plan would replace Obamacare’s income-based subsidies to buy insurance with tax credits, and eliminate a requirement that most Americans obtain medical insurance.

“Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice,” said Chaffetz, who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“So maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.”

Social media came alive over Chaffetz’s remarks, with many users mocking the lawmaker’s connection between healthcare and an iPhone. iPhone was one of the top trending topics online, with nearly 60,000 tweets using the term by early afternoon.

An iPhone 7 mobile phone, Apple Inc’s latest model, costs $649 on the company website. A 2016 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected the average premium last year for employment-based insurance at about $6,400, and somewhat less for individual coverage.

Twitter user Stephen Toulouse (@Stepto) wrote: “I would have to give up my habit of buying an iPhone every single month to get healthcare.”

Jenny Trout (@Jenny_Trout) superimposed Chaffetz’s face on a portrait of Marie Antoinette, the 18th-century French queen accused of insensitivity to the poor. “Let them have iPhones!” Trout said.

Eli Friedman (@eligit) said: “Hey Jason I’m writing this to you on my $600 iPhone, bought once every 2 years. Can you get me insurance for $300 a year?”

After the backlash, Chaffetz told Fox News: “Maybe I didn’t say that as smoothly as I possibly could, but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance.”

Obamacare was the signature domestic accomplishment of Barack Obama, the Democratic predecessor of President Donald Trump.

It has brought health insurance coverage to millions, although premium increases have angered some. Republicans have denounced the law as government overreach.

Trump on Tuesday endorsed the draft House bill, but influential conservative groups came out against it, complicating prospects for passage in Congress.

(Additional reporting by Angela Moon in New York; Editing by Peter Cooney)