MIT professor Jonathan Gruber has produced a firestorm of controversy over remarks made in various settings about the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) and how drafters like himself relied on the “stupidity” of voters in passing the legislation. It appears that the Gruber hits keep coming, even as he prepares for another round of questioning in Congress. The latest comments from 2009 reveal Gruber saying that Obamacare would not produce affordable health care for many citizens since its focus is coverage not costs. This statement made five months before the passage of the Act from a key architect is in stark contrast to President Obama’s repeated assertions that premiums would go down dramatically. The latest statement will fuel questioning before Congress on whether the White House knew that premiums were unlikely to do down and that people would not be able to keep their current policies as promised by President Obama in selling the program.
Gruber stated in 2009 that Obamacare lacked cost controls in it and would not be affordable for many:
“The problem is it starts to go hand in hand with the mandate; you can’t mandate insurance that’s not affordable. This is going to be a major issue . . . So what’s different this time? Why are we closer than we’ve ever been before? Because there are no cost controls in these proposals. Because this bill’s about coverage. Which is good! Why should we hold 48 million uninsured people hostage to the fact that we don’t yet know how to control costs in a politically acceptable way? Let’s get the people covered and then let’s do cost control.”
That view of the likely impact of the ACA was not only never shared by the Administration, it is in direct contradiction with the statements made by the White House on how costs would decline and people would be able to keep their policies if they liked them.
The latest comments are unlikely to gain Gruber any more allies. Once given millions to advise the federal and state governments on their health care system, he is now persona non grata. Indeed, Democratic minority leader Nancy Pelosi expressed a complete lack of knowledge of who Gruber is, was, or will be — even though she previously cited his work and he was paid $400,000 as one of the architects of Obamacare and has made over $2 million from HHS.
Gruber had already previously attracted controversy with statements where he endorsed the theory at the heart of the recent decisions in Halbig and King by challengers to the ACA: to wit, that the federal funding provision was a quid pro quo device to reward states with their own exchanges and to punish those that force the creation of federal exchanges. That issue will now be decided by the United States Supreme Court. Gruber caused uproar when, after he had denounced the theory as “nutty” during the arguments in Halbig and King, he was shown later to have embraced that same interpretation. Gruber has become a major liability in the litigation. Gruber then was back in the news with an equally startling admission that the Obama Administration (and Gruber) succeeded in passing the ACA only by engineering a “lack of transparency” on the details and relying on “the stupidity of the American voter.” Now a new videotape has surfaced from Gruber speaking at the University of Rhode Island in 2012 and expressing the same contempt for the intelligence of citizens — suggesting again that they were hoodwinked to “the lack of economic understanding of the American voter.” In another view taken from at an October 2013 event at Washington University in St. Louis, Gruber also refers to the “Cadillac tax,” and says “They proposed it and that passed, because the American people are too stupid to understand the difference.” His comments of working in Massachusetts (with Mitt Romney) are no less insulting to an array of people.
The latest statement is also likely to serve to increase calls for Gruber and the Administration to produce withheld documents previously demanded by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. This statement is far more important than past comments calling voters or politicians stupid. In 2009, Gruber was saying that the ACA was not about reducing costs but guaranteeing coverage. That seems manifestly true but it was not what the White House was saying at the time or even now. The statements are likely to draw more fire with fines set to increase under Obamacare in 2015.
The statement was again in a lecture by Gruber. Once again, Gruber was displaying the type of honesty and openness that students expect in classroom discussions. That is not the expectation however in political discussions, particularly in Washington. Gruber’s admissions have embarrassed the White House and Democratic leaders who pushed through the ACA on a razor thin vote. This is why academics often find work in politics to be particularly precarious. The nature of our work demands intellectual honestly and transparency that can be a liability in the political world. Indeed, conservative editorial are already proclaiming that “Grubergate” just got “better” .
The cancellation of state contracts is likely to be the least of Gruber’s problems in 2015 as he appears again before Congress.