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MIT Economist Jonathan Gruber Apologizes For Demeaning Obamacare Comments

( [email protected] ) Dec 10, 2014 04:23 PM EST
Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber has apologized to Congress for his “offending” remarks about the federal health-care law, which were captured on video. However, he still defended the federal health-care law widely referred to as Obamacare.
In this May 12, 2009, file photo Jonathan Gruber, professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, participates in a Capitol Hill hearing on the overhaul of the heath care system in Washington. AP

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Jonathan Gruber has apologized to Congress for his "offending" remarks about the federal health-care law, which were captured on video.

The apology, which he profusely made numerous times on Tuesday in the chambers of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was for the series of revealing comments he made on the law widely referred to as Obamacare. However, while he touted in the videos a "lack of transparency" and "the stupidity of the American voter" that helped boost Obamacare, he defended the process used to pass the complex law.

"In excerpts of these videos I am shown making a series of glib, thoughtless, and sometimes downright insulting comments," Gruber said in prepared testimony. "I behaved badly, and I will have to live with that, but my own inexcusable arrogance is not a flaw in the Affordable Care Act."

Gregory Korte of USA Today noted that Gruber defended the law.

"Let me be very clear: I do not think that the Affordable Care Act was passed in a non-transparent fashion," Gruber said. "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."

Gruber added that while "reasonable people can disagree about the merits of these policies," he clearly thought that "these issues were debated thoroughly during the drafting and passage of the ACA." However, he was chastened by the abrasive tone of his Obamacare comments.

"I sincerely apologize both for conjecturing with a tone of expertise and for doing so in such a disparaging fashion," Gruber said. "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."

According to Stephanie Armour of the Wall Street Journal, Gruber testified alongside Marilyn Tavenner, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Both Democrats and Republicans had sharp criticism for Gruber's comments.

Committee chairman Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.) commented that Gruber's remarks reveal "a pattern of intentional misleading" of the public regarding the Affordable Care Act. The Wall Street Journal reported that Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said that Gruber's statements "gave Republicans a public relations gift in their relentless political campaign to tear down the ACA and eliminate health care for millions of Americans."

However, Gruber made it clear to the House committee that he wasn't a politician or political adviser.

"I was not the architect of President Obama's health-care plan," Gruber said.

As for Tavenner, she testified about errors in enrollment data for plans offered under Obamacare. Armour noted that about 6.7 million had paid-up coverage as of mid-October, about 400,000 fewer than the government had earlier reported.

"I do not [believe] anyone tried to deceive the American people," Tavenner said. "This was an inadvertent mistake, for which I apologize."

According to USA Today, Tavenner added that while the "mistake was regrettable," she noted that "the Affordable Care Act is working."

Issa had harsh comments for both Gruber and Tavenner.

"We believe this is a perfect pairing of individuals who are responsible for what we know and don't know before, after, and during passage of the ACA," Issa said.

According to a Wall Street Journal review of state and federal records, Gruber and his associates received over $6 million in federal and state grants and contracts since 2000. He received about $400,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services for providing computer models that helped estimate the impact related to the insurance expansion described by the law.

Based on an official bio by MIT, Gruber claimed that he was "a key architect" of healthcare reform in Massachusetts. He also served as a "technical consultant to the Obama Administration" to help craft the federal healthcare law; Jesse Byrnes of The Hill noted that White House visitor logs showed more than a dozen appointments for Gruber between 2009 and June 2014.

Gruber's comments on Obamacare have piqued the attention of Christians across the United States. That's because in addition to Gruber being heavily involved with the inner workings of the healthcare law and higher insurance rates that have affected Americans across the country, Obamacare has implemented mandates in regards to what insurers must cover, including procedures and treatments that could potentially violate religious beliefs.

The Associated Press reported that a group of Colorado nuns and four Christian colleges in Oklahoma argued in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that the government hasn't gone far enough to ensure that they don't have to violate their beliefs. They claimed that in order to qualify for the Obamacare contraceptives exemption, they must tell the government that they object on religious grounds and sign away coverage to another party, making them complicit in providing birth control.

"There are plenty of other ways the government could put (emergency contraception) in the hands of the people without us," lawyer Greg Baylor argued on behalf of Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla.

Baylor added that "it is morally problematic" to sign the forms to get an Obamacare exemption. However, Adam Jed of the Department of Justice countered that the government has done enough to accommodate religious exceptions to the birth-control mandate, according to Associated Press.

"We disagree that the act of opting out constitutes a substantial burden on their religious belief," Jed said.

The groups argued that even an opt-out option violates those beliefs.

"You can't say, sister, you should really sign that form because it's not really a big deal," said Mark Rienzi of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued on behalf of the Denver nuns.

Three judges involved in the case focused on whether or not the opt-out forms amount to a "substantial burden." According to the Associated Press, Judge Bobby Baldock seemed perplexed about why the government needs any form at all from religious objectors.

"You already know that the (nuns) raised their hands and said, 'We're not going to do this,'" Baldock said.

The 10th Circuit was the same court that ruled last year that for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby can join the exempted religious organizations and not provide contraceptive coverage, the Associated Press reported. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with the lower court's ruling and reinforced that position.

Current federal health care law requires most insurance plans to cover all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives for women as preventative care without charging the patient. While churches and other houses of worship are exempt from the Obamacare requirement, the Associated Press noted that affiliated institutions such as charitable organizations, universities and hospitals are ineligible for the exemption.

Tags : Jonathan Gruber apology, Affordable Care Act, ACA, Obamacare, Gruber, House committee, Rep. Darrel Issa, Rep. Elijah Cummings, Marilyn Tavenner, federal healthcare law, federal health-care law, Gruber apology, Obamacare criticism, MIT, MIT economist