Jonathan Gruber, an MIT professor and one of the top outside experts who helped draft Obamacare, caused quite a stir last week when a video surfaced in which he appeared to take the same stance as the law’s opponents on a key issue currently before the courts.
In the video, which was originally shot in January 2012, and in an audio tape from a separate event that same year, Gruber seemed to endorse the view that the law’s tax credits would not be available to Americans shopping on HealthCare.gov, the federal health insurance exchange. The site has been the fallback option for the 36 states that don’t set up their own.
The fervor was so great that White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was asked about Gruber’s video at Friday’s press briefing. He said there was “ample evidence … that (Gruber) supports the administration’s view.”
And that appears to be true. In numerous other occasions, Gruber adopted the administration’s reading of the law. It took place in both his own analysis during Obamacare’s development and then again in a court brief filed to support the White House’s argument in the current lawsuit. It was also apparent in several other public statements.
“It was never contemplated by anybody who modeled or worked on this law that availability of subsides would be conditional of who ran the exchanges,” Gruber told The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn on Friday. He told MSNBC he would give the “same answer” after the second tape from 2012 surfaced of him apparently saying the same thing.
Gruber’s 2009 analysis of the Senate version of Obamacare, which allowed for both state and federal exchanges, did not appear to account for the possibility that tax credits would be unavailable on HealthCare.gov. The same seems to be true of other analyses he published after the bill became law.
But beyond that, Gruber took the extra step of signing an amicus brief to support the administration in the lawsuit before a federal appeals court. In that case last week, two judges ruled that Obamacare subsides could not be provided through HealthCare.gov. If that ruling were to stand, it would affect up to 5 million people and dramatically increase their premiums.
Gruber’s comments probably won’t affect the court case, law professors said after the tape was released, though the remarks did provide fuel for conservatives who are backing the challenge. But his explicit position in the recent lawsuit also contradicts what he seems to have said in the uncovered video.
“Economic modeling confirms what Congress understood: without premium subsidies for every eligible person who buys insurance on an Exchange, the ACA cannot achieving its goal,” Gruber and other well-known economic experts wrote in the brief. They then explicitly referred to the “Gruber Model” that he developed to analyze the law’s potential impact.
“It is absurd to argue that Congress set up a federally run exchange while simultaneously denying participants the subsidies necessary to make the Exchange functional,” they concluded.
Some media observers, conservative and liberal, have suggested that Gruber’s comments in the tape are actually being misinterpreted, and he never strayed from the administration’s line at all. And Gruber has also been unequivocal in his recent comments to the media about the case.
“It’s literally insane to think that because of a typo in the law,” Gruber told MSNBC last week, “that that typo would bring down the law is just a failure of democracy.”