The Politco's Ben Smith reports that MIT economist Jonathan Gruber has been on the government health care analysis payroll, to the tune of about $300,000 this year.
One of the key voices for Congressional health care legislation, MIT economist Jon Gruber, is taking fire from the precincts of the left that oppose the Senate plan over the fact that he is on contract with Department of Health and Human Services.
He's been paid $297,600, according to federal documents, to produce "a technical memorandum on the estimated changes in health insurance coverage and associated costs and impacts to the government under alternative specifications of health system reform." The contract, which was awarded June 19, wasn't widely known or regularly disclosed.
"[D]on’t you think it’s rather, um, dubious that the guy evaluating the heath care reform–for $300,000–is also the package’s single biggest champion? And no one has been transparent about this contract?" writes Firedoglake blogger Marcy Wheeler of the contract, which was first mentioned on DailyKos.
Mr. Smith asked Dr. Gruber about the contracts and appearance of "pay for play," and Dr. Gruber responded that "at no time have I publicly advocated a position I did not firmly believe." It is obvious when you read his material published in the New England Journal of Medicine that he indeed does firmly believe in what he espouses. But it's also apparent in reading the articles that his analysis glosses over areas that are major issues in the health care debate with breezily worded dismissals of criticisms.
For example, in a January, 2009 article, "Universal Health Care Coverage Or Economic Relief - A False Choice," Dr. Gruber first leads cheers for the push:
These are exciting times for advocates of universal health care coverage, with sizable Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and a Democratic president who made universal coverage a central pledge of his campaign.
"Exciting times?" "Sizeable Democratic majorities?" He continues with a backhand slap at critics:
But despite this enthusiasm, many observers are skeptical that the United States can foot the bill for universal coverage in such economically trying times. Universal coverage, their argument runs, is a luxury that we must do without in order to make way for other programs that will stimulate the economy.
This argument presents a false choice. Indeed, I would counterthat now is exactly the right time for universal coverage, because it can play such an important role in growing our economy, while also enabling us to shift the focus of health policy discussions to approaches for addressing our largest long-term fiscal challenge: escalating health care costs.
In defense of this statement he presents a number of best case scenario guesstimates as if they were a given, showing little if any traditional scientific skepticism. Of course untying health care from employment would make workers more mobile, and of course they'd flock to more productive positions. Of course expanding Medicaid and SCHIP would be beneficial, and would actually save money! Of course reforming health care would bring forth "high quality jobs." And there'd be more physicians, nurses and other health care workers. All is well, all is well. He finishes with a head-scratcher:
Finally, providing universal coverage represents an important prerequisite to addressing the most important fiscal issue facing the U.S. government: the enormous future promises made through our public insurance programs, Medicare and Medicaid.
I see. Having the government provide coverage for all will make up for projected shortfalls in the government coverage for some. In another NEJM piece, July 2009, optimistically entitled "A Win-Win Approach To Financing Health Care Reform," Dr. Gruber, seeming to have realized that there will be enormous new costs associated with his favored reform, writes in favor of a bushel basket of new taxes, including taxing employer-provided health insurance. So instead of the government "paying for" employer provided health care via this current subsidy, he'd rather the government tax the plans, thus making them more expensive, and set up it's own plan using those funds. Which would, of course, force companies that want to remain competitive to switch to the government plan. Remember the promise, "If you like your health care you can keep it?"
And interestingly, at the end of that article is the following disclaimer:
"No potential conflict of interest relevant to this article was reported."
Ahem. The Politico article notes that his government contract was awarded June 19.
A final 2009 NEJM article, "Getting The Facts Straight On Health Care Reform," gets very few of the facts straight, instead parroting supporter talking points as if they are the final word on the debate, and with little if any supportive material. He relies on the CBO analyses of Senate and House bills, analyses which suffer under the constraints of CBO scoring, and his own writings at MIT and as a board member of the Massachusetts Health Connector program. That's it. Criticisms are dismissed as obviously without merit, and the assumptions of the plan designers taken as written in stone.
In each of these papers Dr. Gruber demonstrates the hubris of the central planner. He quite clearly has a bias toward government control of the health care sector. He is not being paid to shill for the Democratic health care bills. Rather, he is being paid precisely because he is a shill for them.
1/9/10 1110: More: "Is Gruber the Armstrong Williams of the Obama Administration?" Actually, not really.
Apparently, no other economist in the US has ever studied health-care costs in depth, according to HHS. Or, more likely, Orszag arranged a $300K no-bid contract for a buddy, then hid the relationship in order to promote him as an independent voice that just so happened to support administration policy.
Heads should roll for this, and Orszag’s should be the first, and that’s not just because he’s managed to screw up for the entire year. This is not incompetence — it’s corruption.