Senators Query MIT Economist

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber was contacted last week by two Republican Senators who took exception to his role in the Administration’s health care reform efforts.

“When MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber allowed himself to be quoted by numerous media outlets about his sunny analyses of ObamaCare, including a big push by Peter Orszag on his OMB site and in challenging reporters to use Gruber’s conclusions, Gruber never bothered to mention that he was receiving money through HHS to provide consultation on health-care reform,” writes Ed Morrissey on the Hot Air blog. (Read my analysis of Gruber’s actions here.)

According to Morrissey, a source in Washington gave Hot Air a letter from the Senators to Prof. Gruber which demanded that he reveal the details of his media and congressional appearances, as well as speaking engagements related to health reform “since the commencement of your federally funded work related to health care reform.” Among the many other questions, they also ask whether Professor Gruber has served on the Congressional Budget Office Panel of Health Advisers, and for him to identify “all meetings or conference calls you participated in with White House officials related to health care reform.”

Apparently the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declined to notify the Senate about Prof. Gruber’s financial ties to HHS, or so Sen.’s Mike Enzi (Wyoming) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa) assert:

“In July, Senator Enzi wrote to HHS Secretary Sebelius requesting among other information, a list of all outside consultants with the Department and copies of their agreements. HHS was unresponsive to this request, which should have reviewed your relationship with the Department. Senator Enzi recently wrote again to reiterate this request to HHS Secretary Sebelius and to ask for additional information concerning your relationship with the Department. Senator Grassley also wrote to Secretary Sebelius requesting that HHS require any individuals under contract with the Department to disclose that fact publicly prior to any testimony before Congress. Additionally, Senator Grassley requested that HHS provide a complete list of individuals who are currently under contract, or have been under contract at any point last year, to assist the Department in any aspect of the health care reform process…”

Prof. Gruber made at least several appearances before Congress, as this search demonstrates.

He testified before the Senate Finance Committee on May 12, 2009 (pdf) and July 31, 2008 (pdf) on health care; he spoke to the Senate HELP Committee on Health Reform and Small Businesses on June 11, 2009 and again on November 3, 2009. “As this testimony makes clear, small business has little to fear, and much to gain, from health reform,” his prepared statement (pdf) for the latter hearing reads. “A reformed insurance market with efficient exchanges will offer both lower health insurance costs and more premium stability for small firms.”

Less than 24 hours after Prof. Gruber’s Nov. testimony the White House put a blog posting up which states in a sub-headline “Talking Points: Objective Analysis Shows Reform will Help Small Businesses, Lower Premiums for American Families” (emphasis added).

The first bullet point states, “MIT economist Jonathan Gruber has a new report out showing that reform will lower premiums for Americans purchasing insurance on their own.”

The three sources cited in the blog entry are 1) an Ezra Klein Washington Post blog entry which highlights Gruber’s research; 2) Gruber’s prepared testimony before the Senate HELP Committee, and 3) a July 2009 report by the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) on “The Economic Effects of Health Care Reform on Small Businesses and Their Employees.”

View the screen cap here (pdf).

The July CEA report cites Gruber’s 2000 research on “Health Insurance and the Labor Market” in the footnotes; an earlier June 2009 CEA report on “The Economic Case For Health Reform” (pdf) relies heavily on the MIT professor’s research.

Gruber also lectured at the June 16, 2008 Senate Finance Committee “Prepare for Launch Health Reform Summit,” speaking on a panel covering “Trends in Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage.”

As mentioned earlier, Talking Points Memo reported last November that Rahm Emanuel had assigned a piece by Ronald Brownstein—which describes Gruber as “a leading health economist at [MIT] who is consulted by politicians in both parties”—as “homework during a recent meeting.”

The January letter from the Senators requests that Prof. Gruber supply a written response to their questions by February 23. “Gruber, in an email, declined to comment on the letter,” writes Ben Smith for Politico.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.