Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Last Call For More Gruber Grubbing

New Republic health care reporter Jonathan Cohn pens a look into the actual truth behind the statements made by MIT health economist and Obamacare advisor Jonathan Gruber, and discovers what America needs most is health economists with political common sense.

Faithful readers of the New Republic may remember Gruber’s role in what became a significant, if ultimately ironic, moment of the 2008 campaign. It’s easy to forget now, but when Obama first ran for president he rejected the idea of an individual mandate. John Edwards, who had included a mandate in his plan, and Hillary Clinton, who planned to include one in hers, attacked Obama for this—and cited a rough calculation that reform without a mandate would mean an additional 15 million people without health insurance. The figure had come from an article I wrote at the time. My source for the figure was a back-of-the-envelope extrapolation by Gruber. 
Obama campaign staff were not pleased. But after Obama won the election, and decided upon health care as a priority, his advisers tapped Gruber to provide calculations. The Department of Health and Human Services hired him as a contractor and paid very good money for his services—nearly $400,000, fees that are, health care experts tell me, roughly in line with what private consulting firms charge for similar work. In that capacity, Gruber provided the White House and sometimes its congressional allies with data—predictably similar to what CBO official projections would ultimately show—that they could use to devise policies or to defend their positions in public.

It’s possible that Gruber offered informal advice along the way, particularly when it came to positions he held strongly—like his well-known and sometimes controversial preference for a strong individual mandate. Paul Starr, the Princeton sociologist and highly regarded policy expert, once called the mandate Gruber's "baby." He didn't mean it charitably. But lots of outside advisors were offering the Administration opinions. On only one occasion, to my knowledge, did Gruber meet directly with President Obama in an advisory role. In that instance, he was part of a delegation of outside economists urging Obama to adopt reforms that would help restrain the cost of care. Otherwise, Gruber’s role was primarily to provide numbers.

So no, he wasn't the "architect" of  Obamacare any more than the CBO is the architect of the Obama budget.  What he said was politically tone-deaf, and all of us need to remember that Republicans are doing is using that to justify taking health coverage away from millions of Americans.

That's the only actual scandal here.

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