Gruber Apologizes and “Clarifies” his comments about Tax Credits

December 9th, 2014

Here is the key portion of Jonathan Gruber’s mea culpa:

I did not draft Governor Romney’s health care plan, and I was not the “architect” of President Obama’s health care plan. I ran microsimulation models to help those in the state and federal executive and legislative branches better assess the likely outcomes of various possible policy choices.

After the passage of the ACA, I made a series of speeches around the nation endeavoring to explain the law’s implications for the U.S. health care system from the perspective of a trained economist. Many of these speeches were to technical audiences at economic and academic conferences.

Over the past weeks a number of videos have emerged from these appearances. In excerpts of these videos I am shown making a series of glib, thoughtless, and sometimes downright insulting comments. I apologized for the first of these videos earlier. But the ongoing attention paid to these videos has made me realize that a fuller accounting is necessary.

I would like to begin by apologizing sincerely for the offending comments that I made. In some cases I made uninformed and glib comments about the political process behind health care reform. I am not an expert on politics and my tone implied that I was, which is wrong. In other cases I simply made insulting and mean comments that are totally uncalled for in any situation. I sincerely apologize both for conjecturing with a tone of expertise and for doing so in such a disparaging fashion. It is never appropriate to try to make oneself seem more important or smarter by demeaning others. I know better. I knew better. I am embarrassed, and I am sorry.

In addition to apologizing for my unacceptable remarks, I would like to clarify some misconceptions about the content and context of my comments. Let me be very clear: I do not think that the Affordable Care Act was passed in a non-transparent fashion. The issues I raised in my comments, such as redistribution of risk through insurance market reform and the structure of the Cadillac tax, were roundly debated throughout 2009 and early 2010 before the law was passed. Reasonable people can disagree about the merits of these policies, but it is completely clear that these issues were debated thoroughly during the drafting and passage of the ACA.

He also addresses his comments about tax credits.

I also would like to clarify some misperceptions about my January 2012 remarks concerning the availability of tax credits in states that did not set up their own health insurance exchanges. The portion of these remarks that has received so much attention lately omits a critical component of the context in which I was speaking. The point I believe I was making was about the possibility that the federal government, for whatever reason, might not create a federal exchange. If that were to occur, and only in that context, then the only way that states could guarantee that their citizens would receive tax credits would be to set up their own exchanges. I have a long-standing and well-documented belief that health care reform legislation in general, and the ACA in particular, must include mechanisms for residents in all states to obtain tax credits. Indeed, my microsimulation model for the ACA expressly modeled for the citizens of all states to be eligible for tax credits, whether served directly by a state exchange or by a federal exchange.

Nothing he said here is inconsistent with what he said in January 2012. The only reason why the federal government would not set up an exchange is if all 50 states establish their own exchanges.

Dave Weigel summarizes the testimony:

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan and Michigan Representative Justin Amash generally focused their questions on that.

“What did you mean when you repeatedly said that the citizens of some states may not quality for Obamacare tax credits?” asked Amash.

“When I made those comments, I believe I was reflecting uncertainty about the federal exchange,” said Gruber. “I don’t recall exactly what the law says.”

“I’m sorry,” said Amash. “You ran the economic model on Obamacare and you don’t recall what the law says?”

“Every model I ran assumed that the tax credits would be available,” said Gruber.

Issa dug in, asking Gruber that if he was aware that “the language [of the law] explicitly” nullified his model. This was generally understood by Democrats to be gaslighting, attempting to convince them that the law had always included a self-destruct button.