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MIT professor Gruber’s role in federal health care law downplayed

What was Jonathan Gruber’s role in the Affordable Care Act?

That question has been hotly debated in light of circulated remarks that the MIT economics professor made about the “stupidity of the American voter” and the “lack of transparency” required to secure passage of the health care law.

President Obama is the latest to play down Gruber’s involvement.

“The fact that an adviser who was never on our staff expressed an opinion that I completely disagree with in terms of the voters is not a reflection on the actual process that was run,” Obama said Sunday.

While it is probably overstating things to describe Gruber as an “architect” of the law, he was no ordinary adviser — as evidenced by the fact that he was paid nearly $400,000 by the administration for his work.

His advice was important when the bill’s survival was in jeopardy.

One of those times was July 20, 2009. Gruber was among a small group of economists that the president summoned to the Oval Office to meet with him and Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf.

Drawing on their advice, Obama met with moderate “Blue Dog” Democrats, who had been holding up the bill in the House. He presented the economists’ recommendations that they revisit an idea that had been rejected by committee chairmen. It would take from Congress the power to set Medicare reimbursement rates and put it in the hands of an independent board.

Gruber developed a “microsimulation” computer model that can produce estimates of the cost and effects of health care policy changes.

His role, however, was not to set policy. It was to explain the effect that a policy choice would have and to add credibility to the endeavor.


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