Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Obamacare Schadenfreude: The Grand Grubernol

Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol (French pronunciation: ​[ɡʁɑ̃ ɡiɲɔl]: "The Theatre of the Big Puppet") – known as the Grand Guignol – was a theatre in the Pigalle area of Paris (at 20 bis, rue Chaptal). From its opening in 1897 until its closing in 1962, it specialised in naturalistic horror shows. Its name is often used as a general term for graphic, amoral horror entertainment, a genre popular from Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre (for instance Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, and Webster's The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil), to today's splatter films.
Yesterday, Dr. Jonathon Gruber, professor of MIT, who sometime called himself the architect of Obamacare, seated next to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner testified before Darryl Issa's House Oversight Committee.  In his opening statement he dismissed his role as the architect of the plan, and did his best to abase himself with apologies to the people he insulted, the American public:
Beleaguered Obamacare adviser Jonathan Gruber declared he was not “the architect” of the health law as House Republicans on Tuesday hit hard at a pair of scandals that have overshadowed an otherwise successful launch of the second sign-up season.

“I was not the ‘architect’ of President [Barack] Obama’s health care plan,” the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist told the House Oversight committee. He repeatedly apologized and dismissed as “mean,” “glib” and “arrogant” a series of controversial remarks about the passage of Obamacare and the “stupidity” of the American voter.

“I am not a political adviser nor a politician,” said Gruber, who was a key economic adviser during the drafting of the law. And in his most pointed mea culpa, he allowed: “It was inexcusable that I tried to appear smarter by insulting others.”
However, he lawyered up regarding the  amount of money he has made during the creation of Obamacare: Gruber Refuses to Tell Congress Amount Gov’t Paid Him for Obamacare
GOP Oversight chairman Darrel Issa informed Gruber that due to a misfiled form, the committee did not receive the complete compensation data for his work on Obamacare. “Would you agree to supplement your Exhibit B, so that we would have . . . your state revenue that you would’ve also received, since ultimately it’s Affordable Care Act-related?” he asked.

“I’m sure my counsel would be happy to take that up with you,” Gruber replied, deferring to his lawyer.

“Actually I was asking would you agree to provide it,” Issa said, prompting Gruber to speak with his counsel before again refusing to answer.

“Why doesn’t he just tell us?” interjected Ohio Republican Jim Jordan. “How much money did you get from the state taxpayers and the federal taxpayers? He’s under oath, why doesn’t he tell us how much he got paid by the taxpayers? We don’t have to wait for him to send something to us, he should just be able to tell us.”

Jordan later pressed Gruber on the question again, but the professor refused to comply. “As I said, the committee could take that up with my counsel,” he repeated.
He also declined to give the committee any of the results he produced using government funds: Talk to my lawyer: Gruber won’t commit to turning over documents he produced for ObamaCare.

Any documents he produced for the US government should be available via FOIA. At least that was my understanding when I was getting grants.

Not exactly an indication that he has nothing to hide.

He also suffered some of the expected memory lapses regarding his contacts with the White House:
Gruber won’t deny the White House wanted to trick Congress into passing the ACA
In an appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Gruber was probed by Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH) over his lamentation that the administration’s lack of honesty about the imposition of taxes both on those who do not purchase insurance and on those who do have insurance. Turner prodded Gruber over whether he had any conversations with members of the White House who perhaps shared his opinion that the ACA needed to be crafted in a “tortured” way to ensure its passage.

After much deliberation, Gruber finally answered: “I honestly do not recall.”

For those keeping track, that is not a “no.”

It defies logic, and insults just as much as did Gruber’s original comments about the “stupidity of the American voter,” to presume that the administration did not take some part in the “tortured” way in which Obamacare was crafted.
He also tried a remarkably stupid gambit to walk back his comments regarding the application of subsidies to state vs. federal marketplaces, which previously suggested that the law was designed to deny subsidies to states that did not join the party: Jonathan Gruber’s Weak New Excuse for His Obamacare Exchange Subsidies “Speak-O”
When this remark initially surfaced over the summer, Gruber described it as a "speak-o," the verbal equivalent of a typo. But that was hard to believe given that Gruber elaborated on it at length, and given that another recorded remarked quickly surfaced in which Gruber said almost exactly the same thing. The recordings strongly suggested that he meant to say what he said, and that he knew what the implications were.

In today’s testimony, Gruber offered a new explanation, saying that what he meant when he made the remarks in 2012 was that he wasn’t confident the federal government would set up an exchange; if the federal government didn’t build a fallback, then that would mean that states choosing not to build their own would lose access to tax credits. In the prepared version of his testimony, he puts it like this: "The point I believe I was making was about the possibility that the federal government, for whatever reason, might not create a federal exchange."

For several reasons, it’s difficult to buy this updated explanation. For one thing, it conveniently ignores the question Gruber was asked in that January 2012 presentation, which was about the establishment of exchanges. "It is my understanding that if states don’t provide them," the questioner says, "then the federal government will provide them for the states."

In his response, Gruber doesn’t dispute this at all. In fact, he opens his response by saying, "yeah," in agreement with the questioner. He does mention that the federal government has slow-walked the creation of its exchange, perhaps in order to encourage states to set up their own, but he doesn’t once raise the possibility that the federal fallback won’t exist at all. Instead, he talks only about the consequences of states declining to establish their own exchanges, not the consequence of what might happen if states decline and the federal government also fails to create an exchange.

Nor does he raise the possibility that the federal government might fail to set up an exchange in the other recording. In that recorded speech, he says that "if your governor doesn't set up an exchange, you're losing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax credits to be delivered to your citizens." Again, he’s not saying, "if your governor doesn’t set up the exchange and the federal government also doesn’t set up an exchange." He’s just saying that this is the result of a state not building its own exchange.

Gruber’s suggestion that he was thinking that the federal government might fail to create an exchange is also odd given that the federal government is required by law to do so if a state does not. Asked about this requirement today by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Gruber claimed not to recall the exact details of what the law entails. That’s tough to believe given that Gruber spent years as a high-profile, well-paid consultant to states considering setting up their own exchanges. But even if he does not remember the details now, it is even harder to believe that Gruber did not know about this requirement back in 2012, when he was in the midst of exchange-relaed consulting work for multiple states.
It's hard not to come to the conclusion that he's being deliberately disingenuous.

The most tear jerking moment of the hearing came when Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) told how her husband's experiences with Obamacare may have contributed to his death from a massive heart attack:
On October 24, the week before election, my husband went to sleep and never woke up. He had a massive heart attack in his sleep at age 65. A perfectly, by all accounts, healthy man. Come to find out, in a conversation with his physician after he died, he chose not to have one of the tests, the last tests, his doctor told him to have. This happened to coincide with the time that we were told that we were not covered by Obamacare. I'm not telling you that my husband died because of Obamacare. He died because he had a massive heart attack in his sleep.
Apparently there was much confusion during his enrollment, and as a result of thinking he was not being covered, he skipped an important test which might have found the problem:

"I want to suggest that regardless of what happened to me personally, that there have been so many glitches in the passage and implementation of Obamacare that have real-life consequences on peoples' lives, " she said, almost choking up. "The so-called glibness that has been referenced today has direct consequences for real American people. So get over your damn glibness."
 Some pre-hearing goodness. The Insiders: The Gruberization of the Democratic Party
It’s too bad the Gruber videos weren’t revealed before the 2014 elections, because they perfectly crystallize the entire Democratic 2014 campaign. That is, don’t admit what you really believe or what you will really do in government. Say things that purposely deceive or at least misdirect the voters from your true intentions. Anyway, Gruber isn’t just a bad episode. He is a living example of what the Democratic Party has become. In its simplest form, Democrats want to talk to the right and then govern to the left. They hide behind platitudes and dishonest attacks on Republicans, but this just doesn’t work, as illustrated by the Democrats’ last gasp in Louisiana this past Saturday, when Senator Mary Landrieu lost her Senate seat to Bill Cassidy, 43 percent to 57 percent.

Despite what is said tomorrow in the House Oversight Committee hearing, perhaps Gruber has already made a lasting contribution to the political vocabulary. If nothing else, he has helped spawn a new verb. As one gentleman wrote in a letter to the editor in The Leaf-Chronicle, “’gruberize’ will now refer to ‘the art of slicking buyers by using catch phrases and weasel wordsmithing.’”
There are a few non-Gruber schadenfreudes, too, but I'll just give them the Paul Caron treatment:

Feds Plan for 35 Agencies to Help Collect, Share, Use Electronic Health Info

Mitch McConnell’s Obamacare gambit: Behind closed doors, Republicans are plotting one last tilt at the Affordable Care Act.

Job health insurance costs rising faster than wages

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