Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T. Regrets ‘Arrogance’ on Health Law

Jonathan Gruber of M.I.T. Regrets ‘Arrogance’ on Health Law

DEC. 9, 2014


Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform attacked Jonathan Gruber, an economist who advised the government on the Affordable Care Act, for a series of gaffes. Video by AP on Publish DateDecember 9, 2014. Photo by Molly Riley/Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — Jonathan Gruber, the health economist whose incendiary comments about “the stupidity of the American voter” have embarrassed the Obama administration, apologized on Tuesday for what he described as his “glib, thoughtless and sometimes downright insulting comments.”

“I am not a political adviser nor a politician,” said Dr. Gruber, a professor at theMassachusetts Institute of Technology who was a paid consultant to the Obama administration in 2009 to 2010.

Dr. Gruber minimized his role, saying he had used an “economic microsimulation model” to help the administration and Democrats in Congress assess the impact of policies in the Affordable Care Act. He later defended the law in a number of speeches. In one, he said the law had been adopted, in part, because of the stupidity of voters and a “lack of transparency” about its financing.

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Testifying on Tuesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Dr. Gruber said: “I behaved badly, and I will have to live with that, but my own inexcusable arrogance is not a flaw in the Affordable Care Act. The A.C.A. is a milestone accomplishment for our nation that already has provided millions of Americans with health insurance.”

The chairman of the committee, Representative Darrell Issa, Republican of California, said backers of the law had passed it and sold it to the public with half-truths and deception. He added that Dr. Gruber and the administration had displayed “a pattern of intentionally misleading the public about the true nature and impact of Obamacare.”

The senior Democrat on the committee, Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, joined in the criticism of Dr. Gruber. He said his comments were “absolutely stupid” and “incredibly disrespectful.” Worse, he said, the statements gave Republicans “a political gift in their relentless campaign to tear down” the law.

Mr. Issa showed a video in which Dr. Gruber suggests that supporters of the health law had written it in such a way that the Congressional Budget Office would not count required premium payments as tax revenue.

“This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure C.B.O. did not score the mandate as taxes,” Dr. Gruber says in the October 2013 video. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the ‘stupidity of the American voter’ or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass.”

He appeared to squirm on Tuesday under questioning by Republicans who confronted him with his own past statements. He did not deny or recant those statements, but said he regretted some of his impolitic formulations. “I made a series of statements that were really just inexcusable,” Dr. Gruber said toward the end of the four-hour hearing.

“It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smarter by demeaning others,” he also said. “I know better. I knew better. I am embarrassed, and I am sorry.”

Dr. Gruber infuriated Republicans on the committee by refusing to disclose the total amount of money he had received in grants and contracts from the federal government and states for work related to the Affordable Care Act. He also declined to say if he would provide copies of documents that he had prepared for federal and state agencies.

Representative Jason Chaffetz, Republican of Utah, told Dr. Gruber: “You have been paid by the American taxpayers. Will you provide that information to this committee?”

Dr. Gruber replied repeatedly, “You can take it up with my counsel.”

In an interview, Mr. Chaffetz said he would insist on the requests after he becomes the panel’s chairman in January. “Mr. Gruber will cough up those documents one way or another,” he said.

Though he strongly supports the health law, Dr. Gruber has made statements that appear to undercut arguments now being pushed by the Obama administration in court cases challenging the payment of premium subsidies in states using the federal insurance exchange. Under the law, the federal government provides a backstop if states fail to establish exchanges.

“What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits,” Dr. Gruber said in 2012.

By contrast, the White House has said that Congress intended for the subsidies to be available nationwide, in all states, regardless of whether they had a federal or state-run exchange.

Dr. Gruber said his earlier comments had been referring to the possibility that the federal government might not create a federal exchange.

“Your new explanation of your previous public statements makes little sense,” Representative Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, told him.


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