Two well-placed sources on Capitol Hill say that the Congressional Budget Office effectively used Jonathan Gruber’s model to score Obamacare. That model favors government mandates over market competition and claims that essentially the only way to achieve a large reduction in the number of uninsured Americans is to impose an Obamacare-like individual mandate. Moreover, because the model that the CBO used in scoring Obamacare is the same one it uses today, any alternative to Obamacare that doesn’t include an individual mandate — which is to say, any conservative alternative — would be scored by the CBO as falling well short, in terms of coverage numbers, of Gruber’s preferred legislation.
While the CBO’s model isn’t exactly the same as Gruber’s, one well-placed congressional source says that the two models are “eerily similar.” That source adds that, not only was Gruber one of the CBO’s academic advisors at the time that Obamacare was scored — a claim echoed by the Huffington Post — but two of Gruber’s graduate student protégés worked on the scoring.
Gruber himself describes his model and the CBO’s as being “very similar.” In early 2011, he wrote:
“CBO and I both estimate [the] that Affordable Care Act will cover about 60 percent of those who would be uninsured absent the law. We both find that there would be a very modest reduction of employer-sponsored insurance, that premiums in the nongroup insurance market for the same quality product would fall, and that there would not be much effect on premiums in the employer-provided insurance market.”
For the record, before Obamacare passed, the CBO predicted that the president’s signature legislation would have led to 19 million more people having health insurance by 2014 (see Table 4). In reality, Obamacare has maybe hit half that number — and many if not most of Obamacare’s newly insured have simply been dumped into Medicaid.
While failing to disclose it at the time, the Obama administration paid Gruber almost $400,000 in taxpayers’ money because, in the Department of Health and Human Services’ words, he had “developed a proprietary statistically sophisticated micro-simulation model” to which the Obama administration wanted access. Noting how “similar” Gruber’s model is to the CBO’s, the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler writes that, with access to Gruber’s model, the Obama administration “could predict with reasonable certainty how CBO would score legislation.” Kessler adds, “Given that legislation in Washington often falls or rises depending on the CBO score, that made this model a very powerful tool for administration officials.”
Given the importance of Gruber’s role, why wasn’t it made more transparent? Well, as Gruber might say — and has said — “lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” especially given “the stupidity of the American voter.”
Gruber had influence over the CBO, the White House, and Congress alike. Indeed, it seems that it might be hard to overestimate his importance; his role was central to the efforts of President Obama and his Democratic allies to shove Obamacare down an unwilling citizenry’s throat.