Several Vermont lawmakers expressed early skepticism of Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer financing plan because it relied on economic modeling provided by prominent Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber.
Even before Shumlin announced in mid-December he was pulling the financing plan, key lawmakers who would have decided its fate said Gruber’s explosive video confessions severely damaged the proposal.
“How could anyone trust this man who has said with arrogance that the lack of transparency and the stupidity of the American people is why Obamacare and related individual state health-care reform has passed?” said state Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington.
Morrissey, a member of the House Committee on Health Care, said the issue was too important to keep Gruber on as a consultant in Vermont, even if he’s no longer being paid.
“How could anyone put a person like Mr. Gruber into a position of power over an initiative like health care that affects every citizen personally and financially?” she asked.
Gruber Boasts of Deception
In comments at a health-care panel at the University of Pennsylvania last year, Gruber, a chief architect of the Affordable Care Act, said the federal health law was “written in a tortured way” to conceal from the public that the individual mandate was a tax. It was also written to disguise the idea the plan involved government redistribution of money from the healthy to the sick.
“If you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed,” Gruber said of the Affordable Care Act. “Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,… and I would rather have this bill than not.”
Gruber’s admission that he misled others to obtain a predetermined outcome cast doubt on Shumlin’s health-care financing plan, which relied on economic modeling provided by Gruber.
State Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, vice chair of Joint Fiscal Committee, had said the legislature would take extra precautions regarding the Shumlin-Gruber plan.
“I know there’s concern about Gruber and his statements. But even without that, last session the legislature tried to put itself in a position where we could do our own due diligence in terms of the analysis,” Kitchel said.
Kitchel had said the Joint Fiscal Committee would seek an independent examination by the Rand Corporation. The committee had also hired federal Congressional Budget Office analyst Joyce Manchester to help scrutinize Gruber’s economic data. Manchester is an economist who has worked as chief of CBO’s Long-Term Analysis Unit.
“The legislature felt that we needed to have our own independent capacity to look at the data. We have someone at Joint Fiscal who has a background to do that, and then Rand will be helping us to get that independent examination,” Kitchel said prior to Shumlin’s announcement.
Gruber Continues Work
In early November, Shumlin’s health-care reform chief, Lawrence Miller, announced Gruber would not receive the full amount of his $400,000 contract with the state, due to his video comments. However, Gruber would still provide the deliverables described in the contract, and his research assistants would get paid for their work.
That arrangement didn’t pass the smell test with state Rep. Doug Gage, a Republican from Rutland City who also serves on the House Committee on Health Care.
“Usually an employee represents the interest of his boss, and if he’s cut off the funding for Gruber but not for the team that’s under him, that doesn’t seem to be accomplishing the goal that the governor’s looking to do, which is to not benefit him financially or any other way,” Gage said.
“It tells me the governor is interested in what Gruber is saying and it holds some credibility to him.”
Gruber ‘Trying to Mislead’
Gage says the Gruber videos severely undercut the credibility of the MIT professor and any testimony he might have given to the committee.
“It sounds like he’s trying to mislead the public, and he thinks it’s a good thing that people aren’t educated on a topic like that.… It does bring into question any testimony he does bring before our committee,” Gage said.
Kitchel said the controversy surrounding Gruber made the legislature’s advance planning all the more critical in scrutinizing Shumlin’s plan.
“In light of the statements he made, it makes the work that we did to prepare and give ourselves our independent capacity even more important,” she said.
Doubts Tax Revenues Possible
Morrissey says Gruber’s statements tainted both his work product and the process, and she added it was difficult to imagine any tax scenarios that would enable Vermont to pay for a single-payer system estimated at that time to be $2.2 billion.
“We have about 630,000 residents.… I don’t see how we can tax our way out of this or put a further tax burden on our citizens at this point. I just don’t. I don’t say it in any way politically, I just don’t know how we could do this,” Morrissey said.
“I want a good health-care reform, but as a small state I don’t know how we are going to do this multibillion-dollar initiative without information or even a tax base so that we can produce a good product. That’s what keeps me awake at night.”
Bruce Parker ([email protected] ) writes for Watchdog.org, where an earlier version of this story appeared. Reprinted with permission.