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It would take 74 iPhones to pay for a knee replacement—the math behind Jason Chaffetz’s heartless remark

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If lower-income Americans want health care under the new Republican replacement for Obamacare, they’ll need to stop buying expensive gadgets like iPhones, Utah Representative Jason E. Chaffetz said on Tuesday (March 7).

Chaffetz made the statement on CNN, talking about the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Barack Obama’s signature healthcare plan. “Access, for lower-income Americans, doesn’t mean coverage?” he was asked. His full answer:

Well, we’re getting rid of the individual mandate. We’re getting rid of those things that people said that they don’t want. And you know what? Americans have choices, and they’ve got to make a choice. And 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 it in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.

Chaffetz’s comments were immediately, and roundly, mocked. After all, the cost of a new iPhone 7 is $649, while the average healthcare cost for an adult in the US is $10,345. Most poor Americans probably weren’t planning to buy 16 new iPhones per year.

The chart below lays out how many iPhones you would need to forgo to pay for the most common medical procedures in the US. These estimates, from a US agency that researches healthcare costs, exclude the cost of hospital stay, emergency room procedures, and collateral costs, which can easily add tens of thousands of dollars to the final bill.

Most common US medical procedures

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Blood transfusion* 0.3
Vaccinations 1.7
Respiratory intubation and mechanical ventilation 45.7
Reparation of obstetric fistula 10.4
Cesarean section 74.6
Diagnostic cardiac catheterization, coronary arteriography 13.3
Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, biopsy 6.4
Circumcision 4.1
Hemodialysis 132.8
Ultrasound of heart (echocardiogram) 1.2
Fetal monitoring 1.1
Knee replacement 73.8
Enteral and parenteral nutrition 82.3
Percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA) 32.3
Colonoscopy and biopsy 4.6
Back surgery 74.6 to 134.3
Spinal fusion 223.8
Incision of pleura, thoracentesis, chest drainage 1.5
Hip replacement, total and partial 44.7 to 119.4
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