Jonathan Gruber, MIT professor and the so-called "architect of Obamacare," is trying to distance himself from videotaped remarks that surfaced this week where he is saying the Affordable Care Act passed only because of a “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter.”
The Gruber comments were delivered when he was part of a panel discussion on October 17, 2013 at the University of Pennsylvania’s Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. Patrick Howley of the Daily Caller was the first journalist to flag Gruber’s remarks, which were then posted in a video by Philadelphia investment adviser Rich Weinstein who pored through hours of videotape.
"This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure Congressional Budget Office (CBO) did not score the mandate as taxes," said Gruber in the video. "If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that. In terms of risk-rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in -– you made 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 for the thing to pass."
He went on to say he wished "we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not."
When the remarks surfaced, Gruber first went into "no comment" mode. But perhaps after consulting with some PR pros, and maybe receiving some fresh media training and messaging help, Gruber went on MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow Daily on Tuesday saying he was speaking "off the cuff" and "inappropriately" at an academic conference. He also said due to political pressure, the language of the ACA bill had to be somewhat opaque.
"Public policy that involves spending is typically less politically palatable than doing things with the tax code. It would have made more sense to do Obamacare the way we did it in Massachusetts, and that is to just actually give people money to offset the cost of their health insurance. That was politically infeasible and so instead it was done through the tax code. That's the only point I was making."
Gruber is a professor of economics at MIT, where he has taught since 1992. He is also the director of the Health Care Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, and an associate editor of both the Journal of Public Economics and the Journal of Health Economics. He was a key architect of both the 2006 Massachusetts health care reform known as "Romneycare," as well as the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as "Obamacare."
In potentially more bad news for the ACA, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Monday that by the end of 2015, Obamacare enrollment will be 30% less than originally projected.
On the plus side Gruber notes, "they're finding that employers are less likely to drop health insurance than the Congressional Budget Office estimated."
But through it all, Gruber says, the relevant number, the number we should really care about, is how many people gain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. "Right now that stands at about 10 million people that have gained in Year One. We'll see where it goes in Year Two."
Below is The Manhattan Institute's Obamacare cost map that details how the law’s health insurance regulations impact people of different ages and genders. For most of the country, young people who shop for coverage on their own have far steeper gross insurance costs under the law than they did before.