Jef Rouner
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Yes, Poor People Need Smart Phones (AND Health Insurance)

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About a month ago, the ramp up to the predictably dismal Trumpcare bill was in full bloom. The bill has since been dealt an inglorious defeat due to it being too terrible for moderate Republicans and not terrible enough for the wing nuts. In the midst of all that came Jason Chaffetz. The U.S. Representative of Utah’s 3rd District, who wanted to make sure that everyone knew he was objectively awful at this whole being a human thing. He had some advice for people struggling to afford health insurance: just stop buying iPhones.


I’m late to the party on this hot take, but this weekend I finally upgraded my two-year-old phone as a birthday present to myself. I thought I’d try and enlighten the gentleman from the Beehive State on this amazing luxury he thinks people are blowing would-be premiums on.


First things first, I’ve never paid full-price for a smart phone at one time. Ever. Know what my brand new iPhone 7 cost me out-of-pocket this weekend? $3. Yes, you read that right, and no, I didn’t buy it out of the back of a van or something. I got it at an AT&T store.


I’ve been with AT&T for cell phone coverage for as long as I have had one, which is at least a decade. They sign you up for a contract, and you pay for your phone in installments of somewhere between $15 and $35 depending on the model, length of the contract and whether you get any insurance. When the contract is up, you get an upgrade where you only pay the tax due on the phone at the store ($61.87 in my case). Factor in the $59 they are crediting me on the account for my old phone on trade-in, and my new phone was, again, $3, with a payment plan less than my renter’s insurance.


All that is slightly beside the point, though. I mean, if the Republicans can make me a health insurance plan that costs me less than $50 a month, sure, Chaffetz’s argument would hold water like a Star Wars fan’s bladder the last twenty-minutes of Rogue One. And if monkeys could get law degrees they’d run for congress, but that seems just about as plausible.


Instead, let’s stare this head on. Dear Republicans; a smart phone is no longer a luxury item. It is not the early ‘00s. Access to the online world is quickly becoming a right as much as landline access has been in the past, and pretty soon existing in most population centers without a smart phone will be more or less impossible.


Know what you can do with an iPhone. Well, you can check your eligibility for Medicaid and CHIPS on without owning a computer for starts. You know, until the Republicans kill it, but for now smartphones are already the gateway to the health insurance programs provided by the state. You could also shop for conventional health insurance on them, as well as find a doctor, or the nearest CVS clinic. Barring that, you can use one to do what I did two weeks ago, and save yourself a $40 trip to the pediatrician by Googling symptoms. My iPhone literally paid for itself that month simply by being in my hand and ready to access information when my baby was sick.


You can apply for a job with a smartphone (and receive a call back as well!). Most large businesses these days have apps, and they actively prefer you to apply online rather than come in and do it with pen and paper. Plus, you save yourself the costly driving around process looking for work. Want to work at Kroger? There’s an optimized mobile site for that. Ditto Starbucks. Ditto pretty much any corporation of significant size. You can even use an app to summon an Uber driver to take you there for the interview.


Know what I did with my phone a lot during the election? Made sure all my information was in order so I could vote, not to mention text numerous friends who asked me what they needed to do to vote as many of them were doing it for the first time (or the first time in the primaries). The state lags behind private enterprise in mobile website construction, but they work well enough to get the job done. I’m certain the iPhone map app is what led me to my early voting location both times. Not that Republicans are trying to suppress voters or anything… except when they totally are. The fact that minorities (who tend to vote Democrat) use their mobile devices proportionately more than whites is telling in this regard. Surely everyone remember the racist specter of the Obamaphone “scandal.”


My favorite iPhone feature is that it allows me to record moments, and while that allows for a lot of precious family memories it also comes in handy with the cops. Even my whiter-than-rice self gets a little nervous getting pulled over these days, and when I do I quietly flip on the voice memo feature on my iPhone. I try to keep it low key, even though it is perfectly legal to film cops in this state. You never know when you’re going to need the objective truth of a recording to back up your word against authority, and having a smart phone could literally save your life.


I could go on and on, and hopefully someday someone will, at length, to Chaffetz’s face. No one is giving up their iPhone for health insurance. What it costs me to have one is less than a tenth of the vision rider my wife gets our family through her insurance at a major hospital, and I know for a fact it’s even less for someone who got their insurance on the exchange. Republicans have got to stop pretending that the poor are wasting their money on frivolities instead of necessities. Smartphones open a gate into the world and it’s opportunities, and for the most part they cost so little in regards to healthcare you wouldn’t even notice the difference in your paycheck if they were deducted the same way. Pretending anything else is just admitting they don’t actually care. Please vote accordingly in 2024.