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MIT Health Care Debacle

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology [1] (MIT) economist is being roundly criticized for promoting the Obama Administration’s health care reform efforts while receiving extensive government funding as a consultant—and not telling journalists about the connection. Professor Jonathan Gruber, in turn, has maintained that “at no time have I publicly advocated a position that I did not firmly believe—indeed, I have been completely consistent with my academic track record.”

Aleksandra Kulczuga, writing for the recently-launched Daily Caller [2], shares a few more details:

Widely cited health-care economist Jonathan Gruber, a professor at MIT, accepted money from the federal government at the same time he advocated for reforms proposed by the Obama administration.

Prominent journalists who have quoted Gruber’s work extensively, from Ezra Klein at the Washington Post to Ron Brownstein at the Atlantic, have expressed surprise upon learning that Gruber received at least $392,600 in sole-source contracts from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the last year.

The White House made one of Brownstein’s posts, which cited Gruber as “a leading health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is consulted by politicians in both parties,” mandatory reading for its staffers.”

Brownstein’s column [3] was also promoted [4] by OMB Director Peter Orszag on his blog. The author issued a statement on January 8 stating that

“Frankly I cannot imagine any way in which I would have known about his ties and not disclosed them in anything I wrote about him….With disclosure, I don’t think I would have completely put him outside the pale of people to talk to–he’s really about as sharp as they come on this stuff and I still believe that readers would (and did) benefit from his perspective. But I am confident that knowing about his relationship would have led me to emphasize other analysts to a greater extent, and again, to definitely disclose the connection any time I did quote him.”

In July 2009 the MIT professor landed an eight-month, $297,600 contract [5] to develop “estimates of various health reform proposals on health insurance coverage and cost.”

“The alternative specifications to be considered will be derived from the President’s health reform proposal. This project is a continuation of work that Dr. Gruber is currnetly [sic] providing for ASPE” (emphasis added).

Whether or not Prof. Gruber told Brownstein about the contract or not, identifying the MIT economist’s biases about health care would not have been rocket science.

His faculty biography explicitly states [6] that “During the 2008 [sic] he was a consultant to the Clinton, Edwards and Obama Presidential campaigns and was called by the Washington Post, ‘possibly the [Democratic] party’s most influential health-care expert’” (emphasis added).

Some article titles from Prof. Gruber’s own curriculum vitae [7](pdf), in addition to his faculty biography, make his perspective obvious:

“Incremental Universalism for the United States: The States Move First?”  (Fall 2008)

“Covering the Uninsured in the United States.” ( Sept. 2008)

“Universal Childcare, Maternal Labor Supply, and Family Well-Being” (2008)

“The Massachusetts Health Care Revolution: A Local Start for Universal Coverage” (Sept.-Oct. 2006)

“Public Health Insurance and Medical Treatment: The Equalizing Impact of the Medicaid” (Oct. 2001, with Janet Currie [8])

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia [9].