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'Obamacare Architect's' Emails Show Close Ties With WH: WSJ

'Obamacare Architect's' Emails Show Close Ties With WH: WSJ
Economist Jonathan Gruber. (Saul Loeb/AFP Photo/Getty Images)

By    |   Monday, 22 June 2015 10:03 AM

Economist Jonathan Gruber, whose comments about the government relying on the "stupidity" of American voters to get Obamacare passed sparked anger nationwide, had a larger role in creating and shaping the law than had been previously known, a large trove of emails between him and the White House and top federal officials shows.

The Wall Street Journal reported Monday that the House Oversight Committee provided it with more than 20,000 pages of communications it obtained from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Gruber's employer.

The documents cover messages Gruber sent from January 2009 to March 2010, when the Obamacare legislation was still under discussion.

In the emails, a pattern of frequent discussions are shown between Gruber and top advisers in the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and included notifications of his interviews with reporters and his talks with lawmakers. Further, they show he consulted with HHS about how his role with the agency should be discussed publicly.

The emails are particularly telling, as the Obama administration has distanced itself from Gruber after a 2013 video surfaced with him saying the health law was passed because of the "stupidity of the American voter" and because of the "huge political advantage" of the law's lack of transparency.

According to public records, Gruber received nearly $400,000 from HHS for work that focused on computer models, and Republicans said the video showed that the public was purposely misled over Obamacare costs.

But President Barack Obama last year said Gruber "never worked on our staff," and Gruber told Congress he disagreed with his role being described as having been the healthcare plan's "architect."

"His proximity to HHS and the White House was a whole lot tighter than they admitted," the Oversight Committee chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, told The Wall Street Journal. "There’s no doubt he was a much more integral part of this than they’ve said. He put up this facade he was an arm’s length away. It was a farce."

Chaffetz's committee released the emails as the Supreme Court reaches a landmark decision on the healthcare reform plan's subsidies, and on Sunday, the chairman wrote to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to ask about the agency's contract with Gruber.

"As has been previously reported, Mr. Gruber was a widely used economic modeler for administrations and state governments run by both parties — both before and after the Affordable Care Act was passed," Meaghan Smith, an HHS spokeswoman, said. "These emails only echo old news."

Gruber has declined comment.

Gruber's microsimulation model was used to determine how the numbers of individuals with healthcare coverage would affect costs for both the government and the private sector.

Beyond that, the emails showed Gruber being in touch with then-Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag; Jason Furman, an economic adviser to Obama; and Ezekiel Emanuel, a special adviser for health policy at OMB.

Also, in a July 2009 email, Gruber wrote that Orszag had "invited me to meet with the head honcho to talk about cost control."

Jeanne Lambrew, a top Obama administration health adviser who worked at HHS and the White House, wrote to Gruber on Sept. 9, 2009, to thank him "for being an integral part of getting us to this historic moment," and in a November 2009 email, called Gruber "our hero."

Gruber also told economic adviser Lawrence Summers in an August 2009 email that he would advise Obama to hold out for the money to provide universal coverage.

Gruber further notified HHS when he spoke with journalists, such as former Washington Post health policy reporter Ezra Klein, and ran a description of his responsibilities past Lambrew before providing it to Politico.

In other emails, he told of working to sway support from opponents to the plan, including former Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, and of working with labor unions.

Also, Gruber told HHS in April 2009 that there would be "winners and losers" if employers moved workers onto exchanges for healthcare, including saying there would be 3.6 million "losers" forced into individual coverage, because "as you might suspect, this group is largely young and healthy."

Gruber also discussed, in a Sept. 23, 2009, email, his ideas for hitting the pharmaceutical industry, which would be a "huge winner" because of the "$15 billion/year in incremental revenue," it would receive, asking if there was "any way to go after them harder for financing?”

The MSNBC "Morning Joe" panel Monday criticized the Obama administration for not being more forthcoming about Gruber's role in developing Obamacare.

"I owe my Republican sources an apology, because they kept telling me he was hugely involved and the White House played it down," author Mark Halperin said on the program. "They were right. The Republicans were right. I think the [White House] was not fully forthcoming."

Meanwhile, show host Joe Scarborough said he wondered if "one person" will talk straight, "as the White House assured us that Gruber was a bit player. It appears now that was not true.

"Did the White House lie about Mr. Gruber’s involvement?" he asked.

"It certainly appears they did," co-host Mika Brzezinski responded.

Watch the video here.

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Emails from economist Jonathan Gruber, whose comments about the government relying on the "stupidity" of American voters to get Obamacare passed sparked anger nationwide, show he had a larger role in creating and shaping the law than the Obama administration has admitted.
Jonathan Gruber, obamacare, emails, HHS, Obama
Monday, 22 June 2015 10:03 AM
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