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Jonathan Gruber’s Deception Began Long Before Obamacare Passed

The Obama administration paid economist Jonathan Gruber $400,000 to testify for the Affordable Care Act, and appears to have deeply influenced what he said.

Health economist Jonathan Gruber has recently been quoted and depicted on video telling several truths about supporters’ intent to deceive the American people about Obamacare when it passed. What hasn’t been widely covered is Gruber’s testimony to the Senate Finance Committee before the Affordable Care Act passed.

There were several hearings on health reform on the Hill before ACA passed. Witnesses are brought in to aid in providing insight to the issue at hand.  Gruber did not detail his work with the White House before he testified, prompting this floor statement from Sen. Charles Grassley.

I thought [Gruber] was an unbiased expert, but was later disappointed to hear that he had been paid over $400,000 by the Administration to help advance the president’s health care proposals. At the very least, he should have been straightforward with the Committee and disclosed this financial interest.

Unlike the House, Senate committees did not require witnesses to disclose potential conflicts of interest. Grassley proposes changing the Senate rules to mirror those in the House.

While the PDF for Gruber’s testimony isn’t available directly like those of other witnesses, his testimony begins in the video linked at the 1.16 mark.  Highlights include statements that reaffirm ACA’s cost savings potential while reaffirming there would be no negative impacts on premiums and small business. The witness prior to him, Karen Bender, who does disclose her affiliation with Olivery Whyman, highlights many of the likely causes of premium increases for younger and healthier individuals that we have seen in reality.  Meanwhile, Gruber highlights premium decreases that we’ve never seen: “And prices fall because individuals are brought in to buy health insurance both healthy and sick and so insurers can be sure that they’ll get a good distribution of risk when they offer that insurance.

Or this from the raw transcript:

I also want to spend a minute debunking the claims that reform will hurt small businesses. For example, some people have claimed that insurance reform will raise costs. That ignores the fact that there’s going to be an individual mandate that’s going to help improve the risk of health pools and lower health care costs. Some have claimed the benefit mandates will raise the costs of health insurance, in particular the level of minimum credible coverage that’s put in these bills. The level of coverage that’s in the Senate Finance Committee—for example, that’s the minimum—is less generous than only about 10 percent of firms offer today. So very few firms will be forced to buy up.

This is certainly a different story from the one Gruber told a college audience on video around the same time in 2010.

‘Barack Obama’s not a stupid man, okay?’ Gruber said in his remarks at the College of the Holy Cross on March 11, 2010. ‘He knew when he was running for president that quite frankly the American public doesn’t actually care that much about the uninsured….What the American public cares about is costs. And that’s why even though the bill that they made is 90% health insurance coverage and 10% about cost control, all you ever hear people talk about is cost control. How it’s going to lower the cost of health care, that’s all they talk about. Why? Because that’s what people want to hear about because a majority of Americans care about health care costs.’

The majority of Gruber’s testimony to the Senate was on how the Affordable Care Act would reduce costs. At no time did that testimony disclose his direct association with the White House. Around the same time, he was telling non-congressional audiences the substance of his congressional testimony wasn’t true. One wonders what changed his perspective so dramatically.

Despite the best efforts by former White House staffers like David Axelrod to dismiss Gruber, it’s impossible to shake Gruber’s direct connection to the White House throughout the ACA’s development, especially when the president himself publicly praised Gruber as early as 2006, later contracted with him for over $400,000 to help develop ACA, and remained silent while Gruber provided what was presented as unbiased testimony to the Senate prior to the passage of the law.

The deceptions with Obamacare are numerous, but still can be summarized best by the White House having to admit that “if you like your plan, you can keep it” was an impossible promise to keep. Given the law’s 37 percent approval rating according to Gallup, it’s clear that despite the attempts to deceive Americans, most aren’t that stupid and understand this law is failing to keep its promises. After all, we aren’t the ones who couldn’t even get a website started in three years.

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