By Mike Montgomery
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) made a serious blunder that should concern the entire entrepreneurial community when he said on CNN Tuesday that “rather than getting that new iPhone that [people] just love … maybe they should invest in their own health care.”
He was on TV to defend the Republicans’ newly rolled out alternative to the Affordable Care Act. Instead he put his foot in his mouth and in doing so posited a gross misconception that owning a smartphone in today’s digital economy is, somehow, a luxury.
Although Chaffetz later walked back the statement, it’s still worth discussing. Let’s put aside the fact that the average annual cost of health care last year was $10,345 per person and that most people can get new smartphones for less than $50 per month by signing a contract with a carrier. There’s clearly no cost comparison here.
But on a deeper level, Chaffetz’s comment shows a severe lack of understanding of modern technology, entrepreneurship and the trajectory of the economy. A smartphone is not only a necessity for people who work on-call shifts or who work remotely or in the gig economy. Smartphones are potentially the greatest invention of our modern age not just because they enable us to text, make calls and surf Facebook, but also because of the way they can help us stay healthy. Rather than face a binary choice between health insurance and an iPhone, as Chaffetz proposed, perhaps insurance plans should provide beneficiaries with a smartphone that could easily be considered a required piece of health care hardware for the 21st century.
Every day new apps are emerging that are related to health. There are apps that can track your exercise and food intake. There are apps that remind people to take their medications, drink more water and even meditate to manage stress. These small innovations can go a long way toward helping people stay healthier and out of the doctor’s office.
But for people who do become sick, smartphones can be a lifeline. People who live in rural areas can communicate with specialists hundreds of miles away. Smartphones have the potential to eliminate the expensive paperwork that can add costs and time to people getting the care they need. Smartphones offer a future where consumers could one day shop for the best prices on procedures like knee replacements and MRIs. The possibilities are endless.
Chaffetz’s comment shows that there is still a dangerous divide between reality and Washington, D.C. If politicians really care about making health care cheaper and more widely available, they should work with entrepreneurs to come up with modern solutions to this age-old problem. Equating smartphones with wasteful spending is not the way forward.
This article was originally published in Forbes.