SALT LAKE CITY — One member of Utah's all-Republican congressional delegation is taking heat over his comments on the House GOP proposal to replace Obamacare, while the state's two senators disagree on whether the plan is a step in the right direction.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, appeared on CNN's "New Day" on Tuesday where he was asked about the House Republicans' bill unveiled Monday to replace the Affordable Care Act.
"Americans have choices. And they've got to make a choice," Chaffetz said. "And so maybe rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They've got to make those decisions themselves."
Local Democrats and a progressive advocacy group blasted Chaffetz's comments, which he tried to smooth over later.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon called the congressman's statements "flippant."
"While taking a paycheck and health care from taxpayers, he's telling us, the American people, we need to sacrifice. Chaffetz himself has no choice to make. Donors from his campaign pay for his iPhone, and we pay for his health care," Corroon said.
House Republicans introduced a bill Monday to repeal the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate that also aims to maintain coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and allow children to stay on their parents' plans until age 26.
The plan would offer individuals refundable tax credits to buy health insurance and restructure the country's Medicaid program so that states receive a set amount of money from the federal government every year.
"The American Health Care Act is a plan to drive down costs, encourage competition, and give every American access to quality, affordable health insurance,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said in a statement. “It protects young adults, patients with pre-existing conditions, and provides a stable transition so that no one has the rug pulled out from under them."
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said the repeal bill is not the one people have been waiting for.
"It is a missed opportunity and a step in the wrong direction,” he said.
Lee said Republicans promised to "drain the swamp" and end business as usual in Washington. The bill does not do that, he said.
"We don’t know how many people would use this new tax credit, we don’t know how much it will cost, and we don’t know if this bill will make health care more affordable for Americans," he said.
"This is exactly the type of backroom dealing and rushed process that we criticized Democrats for, and it is not what we promised the American people."
Lee called on Congress to repeal Obamacare immediately and take its time to "do reform right."
"Once Obamacare has been properly sent to the dustbin of history, then we can begin a deliberative, open and honest process to reform our nation’s health care system," he said.
But Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, called the House Republicans' measure a step in the right direction and the foundation for building a new health care law that works for all Americans.
"Even in its early stages, this bill represents a significant improvement over Obamacare. I welcome hearing meaningful feedback on the health policy proposals in this plan, but I also encourage my colleagues to refrain from final judgments," Hatch said.
Chaffetz later tried to clarify his CNN comments on FOX News.
“Well, 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," he said.
The Alliance for Better Utah criticized Chaffetz's remarks as insensitive.
"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," said Chase Thomas, Better Utah’s policy and advocacy counsel.
Gov. Gary Herbert also weighed in Tuesday on the proposal to replace Obamacare, saying it's a first step that will take some time to dissect and build consensus.
Whether it's a Republican plan to repeal and replace, or a Democratic proposal to modify and improve, the ideas could complement each other, he said.
"I hope that both sides of the aisle will work together with the central idea of Utah and other states having more flexibility to implement the program," Herbert said.
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