Friday, January 08, 2010

Gruber's Transgression

"This blogger brawl is far from over. It has less to do with Prof. Gruber and his conflict of interest than it does with the Obama administration's stealthy support for a Senate health care reform bill that only a pharmaceutical executive could love."
There is a revealing -- and for fans of the Senate's supposed health care reform proposal, a very disturbing -- revelation of conflicted interests being exposed by some leading liberal bloggers over the past twenty-four hours. The mainstream media is too busy promoting Rudy Giuliani's garbage to notice.

This requires a little patience and a lot of link-clicking, but stick with us here. We'll take it step-by-numbered-step for you.

1. Jonathan Gruber is an M.I.T. economics professor and an architect of the Massachusetts Health Care law that most closely resembles the 'reform' bill passed recently by the U.S. Senate. He's an undoubted expert in health care policy and the author of a number of articles in the popular press and academic journals supporting the Senate version of health care reform. Most recently, at the end of December he published an op-ed in the Washington Post arguing in favor of the Senate bill and, in particular, the excise tax on 'cadillac insurance' plans.

2. Yesterday a regular at Daily Kos, Mote Dai, posted previously unknown information that since last June, Gruber has had "a sole source contract for almost $300,000" to provide the Department of Health and Human Services with "technical assistance in evaluating options for national healthcare reform." Although Gruber has published extensively in the popular press about the subject over the past six months, he has never publicly disclosed that he was being paid, in effect, by the Obama administration in connection with health care reform proposals.

3. The most excellent Marcie Wheeler, writing as "emptywheel," followed this up on Firedoglake yesterday by reporting that Gruber actually had a second contract with HHS worth another $95,000. That makes the M.I.T. professor's haul closer to $400,000, which should make him very healthy, indeed.

Marcie also shined a spotlight on the HHS contract language that makes it plain the computer economic 'simulations' Gruber was to run were based on the Senate 'reform' bill language that is, in HHS's words, "the President's health reform proposal." Ms. Wheeler adds:
Even assuming that Gruber is the only one in the world who can run these simulations, don’t you think it’s rather, um, dubious that the guy evaluating the heath care reform -– for $300,000 -– is also the package’s single biggest champion?
4. Today, the right-wing internet news source Politico gave Gruber a chance to respond. In sum, the professor's defense was: (a) he was paid "strictly for internal work that I did for the administration" and "all externally visible work and comments, such as my editorials or public reports, have been done on my own time; (b) "at no time have I publicly advocated a position that I did not firmly believe... ;" and (c) on December 24, 2009, in an (unpublished) "form" placed on file with the New England Journal of Medicine, as that journal requires from all article authors, he did acknowledge a "potential conflict of interest. "

5. Also today, Ms. Wheeler evaluates Gruber's response. He misses the point, she says. "I don’t doubt he believes all this stuff. But why didn’t he disclose it?" And, then --
[N]ine months after he first gets a contract with HHS, he starts disclosing the relationship, and only to the organization that can totally discredit him professionally, not to those that will more directly affect the health care debate? Gruber was first put under contract in March of last year–- $95,000 to promote “the President’s” plan–- and he received another $297,600 in June. Why no disclosure then? And why–- after he decided he ought to start disclosing this stuff–- did he not disclose it in a December 28 op-ed in the WaPo?
6. Another Firedog Lake contributor, Jon Walker, then waded in to point out that Gruber, "the go-to guy for people who want to defend the Senate bill," has been defending the Senate bill "by making completely ridiculous, over-the-top claims about the [Senate] bill, which border dangerously close to outright lies."

For example, Gruber has written that when it comes to saving federal budget money, "I can’t think of anything I’d do that they are not doing in the bill. You couldn’t have done better than they are doing.” Replies Walker:

Like many over-the-top claims Gruber has made in interviews, this one is simply not true. There is single payer, drug re-importation, direct Medicare pharmaceutical price negotiation, a robust public option, a centralized reimbursement negotiator, single standardized insurance packages, turning all insurance companies into non-profits, eliminating direct-to-consumer drug advertising, creating a faster pathways for biosimilars—it is a long list of options. To put it simply, there are a lot of common proposals that could have saved the nation hundreds of billions on our health care costs that are not in the Senate bill.

7. And, now Marci Wheeler is back again. This time she points out, not only is Gruber shading the truth about cost-savings in the Senate bill, but he's been papering over the fact that under his own baby -- the Massachusetts state health reform law enacted under former Governor Mitt Romney-- twenty-one percent of the total Massachusetts population, including twelve percent of all children, "forgo necessary medical care because they cannot afford it. Of the 21% forgoing care, something like 18 or 19% have health insurance – but it is health insurance they can’t afford to use."

In other words, while Gruber has been making a handsome living touting how affordable insurance is in Massachusetts, it turns out health care costs in that state remain beyond the ability of nearly a quarter of that state's population! And, yes, we can expect something very similar from the U.S. Senate bill.

This blogger brawl is far from over. It has less to do with Prof. Gruber and his conflict of interest than it does with the Obama administration's stealthy support for a Senate health care reform bill that only a pharmaceutical executive could love. The White House has been using taxpayer money to purchase political support from every conceivable source -- corporate, academic, corporate, political, and corporate -- except its base of liberal supporters.

Unlike all the rest, the liberals don't want any money. They just want Obama to come through with his campaign promises. The Senate health reform bill isn't "change you can believe in." It's the kind of change -- namely $$$$ -- that's been a staple of our dysfunctional government for decades. And that's no change at all.


Anonymous said...

I have been reading this story as it has been reported on all day. I long for a health care bill to be passed, and have been in support of passing this shitty bill, believing it can be worked on, made better even, as time progresses.

Now I am having second thoughts. The news just keeps getting worse, and it seems we are once again going to support the drug and insurance companies, while picking the pockets of those who can least afford it.

Campaign finance reform is where we should focus, since without it we will never have proper representation from our elected officials. It doesn't matter which party sits in the Whitehouse, it seems they are all corrupt.

Anonymous said...

Miller at his townhall meeting:

Margaret Barbaree told Miller that her husband, an Okaloosa County employee, can't afford the $300 family health insurance on the $900 he brings home every two weeks.

Miller suggested she contact local churches and other private organizations for help.

"People look to Washington, D.C., to solve their problems," he said. "That's not the place to look."

Then why are you there, Miller? What a pantload the guy is.