Does Gruber selection inspire confidence in VT’s costly single-payer consultants?

FLIP-FLOP?: Obamacare architect and Vermont single-payer guru Jonathan Gruber claims he was mistaken in 2012 presentation.

By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog

As controversy swirls around Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber’s selection as Vermont’s single-payer guru, Vermonters might wonder if money given to such consultants is well spent.

The task of finding out how to pay for universal health care has risen to more than $1.3 million. Since 2010, taxpayers in Vermont have sought advice from the following health care consultants:

$400,000 – Jonathan Gruber (2014)

$174,000 – Rand Corporation (2014)

$50,000 – Moody’s Analytics (2014)

$50,000 – University of Massachusetts Medical School (2014)

$48,000 – Kenneth Thorpe (2014)

$300,000 – University of Massachusetts Medical School (2012)

$300,000 – William Hsiao (2010)

For lawmakers and citizens who will decide the future of health care in Vermont, expert advice may seem to be a worthy use of taxpayer dollars. However, the Shumlin administration’s choice of Gruber is unlikely to foster confidence, as the MIT economist is currently caught up in a scandal of his own making.

In 2012, Gruber explained that people living in states without health insurance exchanges will not get federal tax credits:

Gruber made the same statement at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco:

The comments have taken on nationwide importance since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled Obamacare’s tax subsidies apply only to states that set up their own insurance exchanges. That ruling stands to cripple Obamacare in 36 states that lack their own health insurance marketplaces.

Gruber is now denying his earlier statements.

In an interview with the New Republic, he said, “I honestly don’t remember why I said that. I was speaking off-the-cuff. It was just a mistake. Congress made a mistake drafting the law and I made a mistake talking about it.”

Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the Cato Institute, told Vermont Watchdog it’s unlikely Gruber didn’t know what he was saying.

“It’s very hard for Jonathan Gruber to argue that he didn’t know what he was saying in 2012, and that he made a mistake. It would be like Isaac Newton forgetting in which direction gravity exerts its force,” Cannon said.

While Cannon wouldn’t speculate on Gruber’s motives, he said the flip-flop raises questions worthy of further examination.

“If a person says one thing one day and another thing another day, there are grounds to question that person’s credibility. But it doesn’t necessarily impugn their credibility.”

According to Vermont House Majority Leader Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, health care consultants will play an important role in the state’s implementation of single-payer.

“If we’re going to do this, and if I’m going to vote for it, I want to have someone who is helping me understand and feel confident in my vote,” Jewett told Vermont Watchdog. “I feel pretty intelligent and pretty sophisticated, but this is challenging stuff and a big change. I want my vote to be fully informed.”

Although Jewett was unaware of the specifics of the recent controversy, he offered Gruber a word of advice.

“He ought to just say, ‘Look it’s in the courts now, whatever I said I said.’”

Other states are taking note of Gruber’s comments and recent denials. On Monday, Oklahoma, which doesn’t have a state-based exchange, filed a motion to make Gruber’s comments part of the summary judgment record in its lawsuit against Obamacare.

Vermont, which has its own exchange, qualifies for federal tax subsidies. However, Jewett conceded the state-based exchange isn’t working.

“It’s unfathomable how badly they are doing. When is it that the attorney general or a bunch of attorneys general are going to go after them? It’s brutal what it’s doing to people. Mechanically, it’s a complete dog,” he said.

Contact Bruce Parker at bparker@watchdog.org

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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