What Jonathan Gruber's Health Care Contracts Tell Us About His Deceptions



Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist and Obamacare architect who helped craft both the Massachusetts health care overhaul and the federal health reform law, has picked up state and federal government contracts worth millions of dollars over the years for consulting work on Obamacare, as well as other health policy issues.

Tomorrow, he'll be testifying in front of the House Oversight Committee. The Department of Health and Human Services has already made a written request that administration staffers not be placed next to Gruber in the lineup, according to Politico

That's not the only slight Gruber has suffered recently. After coming under fire after a variety of recorded remarks surfaced in which Gruber argued that deception was employed in order to pass the Affordable Care Act, Gruber has lost some of his valuable consulting contracts. 

In November, the state of Vermont said it would not pay out the rest of Gruber's contract, reportedly worth $400,000. He had already been paid $160,000.  

Around the same time, North Carolina also said it would be ending its contract with Gruber, also said to be worth $400,000. Gruber would end up getting just $100,000. 

Gruber's various health care consulting contracts help shed light on both his influence and the nature of some of his deceptions. 

The federal contracts, worth just shy of $400,000, provided access to economic simulations that allowed the bill's authors to perfect—and, one might argue, to game—the law's Congressional Budget Office score. 

Gruber misled people about the existence of those contacts even while offering up supportive quotes about the health law in the guise of an independent analyst. When contacted by the media, he declined to disclose his work on the law for the government.

More damningly, when Gruber published an op-ed in The Washington Post at the end of 2009, he was required to submit a disclosure form. The form specifically asked if he had "received any funding, for research or otherwise, from organizations or persons identified in the column." His answer? "No." The Post subsequently published an update. 

It's also interesting to compare Gruber's work for the federal government with his work for the states. the thrust of Gruber's most prominent report to the federal government was that Obamacare would lower health premiums. That report was widely cited in the media, as well as by lawmakers, including then House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the White House. 

But as Avik Roy pointed out in 2012 at Forbes, Gruber's later reports to states investigating the possibility of setting up health insurance exchanges under the federal law suggested something rather different about how the law would affect premiums. Gruber, Roy wrote, was "quietly telling state governments that the law will significantly increase the cost of insurance." Indeed, in at least one report, produced for the state of Wisconsin, Gruber estimated that for a significant percentage of people, costs would go up even after the application of the law's insurance subsidies. 

These are the sort of deceptions and misdirections that Gruber described in the wave of videos that were unearthed earlier this year: declining to reveal relevant information and switching messages depending on which audience is listening. That's how Gruber sold Obamacare, and it's also how he sold his own work. 

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