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Rep. Jason Chaffetz faced a torrential backlash Tuesday about the way he framed the difficult decisions poorer Americans may have to make when it comes to their insurance under a new Republican plan to slim down Obamacare.
"Americans have choices, and they've got to make a choice. So rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care," Chaffetz said on CNN.
He faced an immediate uproar on social media, with accusations that he was insensitive to the high cost of health care or the lives of low-income people. The Utah congressman later appeared on Fox News, where he sought to clarify his iPhone remark.
"What we're trying to say and maybe I didn't say it as smoothly as I possibly could, but people need to make a conscious choice and I believe in self-reliance," Chaffetz said. "And they're going to have to make those decisions."
The Republican plan, released Monday night, removes the requirement to buy insurance, though it allows carriers to charge a penalty for those who have gaps in coverage. It also promotes health savings accounts, where people can stash away their own money to cover medical expenses.
When asked about Chaffetz's comments at a White House press briefing Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price didn't respond directly but said that people already cannot afford their insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.
"What's happening right now is that the American people are having to sacrifice in order to purchase coverage," he said.
Price suggested a goal of the new plan is to drive down costs and increase choices.
Meanwhile, several left-leaning groups condemned Chaffetz's remarks.
Chase Thomas, policy and advocacy counsel for the Alliance for a Better Utah, said the congressman doesn't understand the actual choices poorer Americans face.
"If low-income families become uninsured, it is not because of their decision to buy a phone it will be because Congress is forcing them to decide between buying insurance, putting food on the table or paying the rent," he said. "We hope Rep. Chaffetz sleeps well at night with his iPhone and Apple Watch on his nightstand, while millions of Americans now live under the threat of their affordable health care soon becoming less affordable or unattainable."
Newly elected Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez also released a statement Tuesday chastising Chaffetz and calling him a "shameless hypocrite."
"He makes a six-figure taxpayer salary, has taxpayer subsidized health care and he still thinks working Americans should be forced to choose between health insurance or owning a telephone," Perez said.
Chaffetz did not respond to a request from The Salt Lake Tribune for further comment. Later in the day, the congressman shared an article from Fox News on his Facebook page that compared his remarks to a response former President Barack Obama made at a town hall meeting in 2014. Obama was answering a question about the affordability of insurance.
"I guess what I would say is if you looked at that person's budget," he said, in part, "and you looked at their cable bill, their telephone … cellphone bill, other things that they're spending on, it may turn out that they just haven't prioritized health care because right now everybody is healthy."