By Bruce Parker | Vermont Watchdog
MONTPELIER, Vt. — The Obamacare architect who admitted using misinformation to exploit “the stupidity of the American voter” is being paid $400,000 to advise Gov. Peter Shumlin on single-payer health care in Vermont.
Jonathan Gruber, an MIT professor and policy guru of the Affordable Care Act, told an audience at the University of Pennsylvania last year that he intentionally misled voters about the new federal health care law.
In a video that began circulating on the Internet this week, Gruber is seen explaining how he intentionally used misinformation to trick the American public.
“If you had a law which … made it explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed. Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically, that was really, really critical to getting the thing to pass,” Gruber said.
While Gruber said he wished he could have been honest with the American people, the economist explained he would “rather have this law than not,” and he renounced the concept of transparent government.
“Politically, you just literally cannot do … transparent financing, transparent spending. I mean, this bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If the CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. So it was written to do that.”
The Shumlin administration announced in July it would pay Gruber $400,000 to advise officials on how to finance Vermont’s new single-payer health care system, estimated at $2.2 billion.
Despite being required by law to provide a financing plan for financing Green Mountain Care, Shumlin has refused for 22 months to make those plans public, sparking criticism and lawsuits from state lawmakers.
On Wednesday, state officials reacted to Gruber’s comments and called for a review of his role in advising the state on health care.
“I was completely unaware of his comment at the time we hired him, and I’m frankly appalled. It does not represent how we believe it should be done,” Lawrence Miller, chief of health care reform for the Shumlin administration, told Vermont Watchdog.
“I’ll be reviewing a variety of elements in light of his comments. … It’s an area of health care reform and would be within my responsibility,” he said.
State Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, a member of the Health Care Oversight Committee, called on the Shumlin administration to terminate Gruber’s contract.
“I would hope we would never spend one Vermont taxpayer dollar on someone that believes that we should mislead the voter,” Mullin said.
“His belief that the ends justify the means is enough for me if I were governor to terminate his contract immediately. Transparency and open government are key to a well functioning democracy.”
State Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, member of the Health Reform Oversight Committee, called Gruber’s comments “regrettable” and said they showed “a certain lack of judgment.”
“I’m sorry that he said that. He certainly doesn’t speak for the Vermont Legislature,” she said.
However, Ayer stopped short of calling for Gruber to be fired, saying his job is to provide important data to the Legislature.
“We didn’t hire him to do public relations — we hired him to give us data. He’s a very highly nationally respected economist who specializes in the health care field. … I’m sure he knows by now we don’t expect him to ever say things like that again in a public setting.”
Miller said Gruber was not advising Vermont at the same level as the federal government.
“He is not in any position to have any kind of influence like that. His current role is running economic analysis data sets for us. That’s what we hired him to do. (He’s) not designing anything for us.”
Asked if Gruber’s views on transparency influenced Shumlin to conceal his health care financing plan from lawmakers for nearly two years, Miller answered, “I think we’ve been transparent with everything we have and know. To criticize us for withholding something that is not complete is not an accurate criticism.”
Darcie Johnston, president of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, said Gruber’s work for the administration was as much about deceiving the public as his work on the Affordable Care Act.
“It is clear by the hiring of Gruber that the Shumlin administration intends to continue pulling the wool over the eyes of Vermonters,” she said.
Johnston called on Shumlin to restore Vermonters’ confidence by “taking immediate action to terminate the $400,000 contract” between the state and Gruber.
When pressed for a timeline on reprimanding Gruber, Miller said he would need time to review the situation before taking action.
“I don’t have a next step at this moment. I’m not sure what the appropriate response to an independent contractor is,” he said. He added, “(Gruber) is not a representative of the administration. Everybody should be cautious not to take anything he says as representing anything the state of Vermont believes is appropriate.”
Contact Bruce Parker at [email protected]