Vox's Sarah Kliff: Please Believe Gruber's Disavowal of his Own Obamacare Remarks

March 2nd, 2015 12:00 PM

Please believe in the integrity of Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber. If he disavowed his own remarks, emphatically repeated several times on video, that only state based health exchanges were eligible for subsidies you can believe this honorable gentleman. Such is the attitude of General Electric Vox's Sarah Kliff as she regales us with the history of the King vs Burwell case which will be heard this week at the Supreme Court.

Kliff might be unique as being the last person on the planet to believe in the integrity of Jonathan Gruber. Or is she only faking such a belief to reinforce her arguments against the King vs Burwell plaintiffs? Either way, we have to give her credit for at least making such a tough case:

...As CEI's general counsel Sam Kazman was heading to the party, a co-worker pulled him aside. On his computer, he played a video of MIT economist and former White House consultant Jon Gruber essentially making their main legal argument.

"If you’re a state and you don’t set up an Exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits," Gruber says in the video, taped at a 2012 speaking appearance.

Gruber has disavowed the remarks, saying that he spoke "off the cuff" and made a mistake. There's reason to believe him: Gruber spoke regularly to dozens of reporters during this period and never mentioned this idea to any of them. So these comments are at odds with the bulk of his work on this issue.

But in the video footage, Gruber appeared to be providing, at least in part, the evidence the Virginia judge said the challengers lacked: proof that Congress — or at least an outside advisor who worked with Congress — did intended to condition federal funds on state participation.

"It was a holy shit moment," Kazman says. "We quickly put it up on our website. It went viral overnight and was the subject of a question at a White House press conference the next day."

And in that video footage, repeated on several videos three years ago, Gruber is quite emphatic that states using federal established health exchanges are out of luck when it comes to receiving Obamacare subsidies.

What’s important to remember politically about this is if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits—but your citizens still pay the taxes that support this bill. So you’re essentially saying [to] your citizens you’re going to pay all the taxes to help all the other states in the country. I hope that that’s a blatant enough political reality that states will get their act together and realize there are billions of dollars at stake here in setting up these exchanges. But, you know, once again the politics can get ugly around this.

Sarah Kliff also boldly inserts her own observations into the argument about the state vs federal exchanges:

I covered the drafting of the health law in detail, and in every conversation I ever had with anyone involved, they always believed that Congress meant for every state to have subsidies.

Really Sarah? Then let your humble correspondent insert a discovery he made of a 2011 GAO document that clearly demonstrates the idea that state based exchanges are eligible for subsidies. No mention of federal exchanges.

Established refundable premium assistance tax credits for eligible individuals purchasing health insurance coverage on state exchanges.

That was on page 16 of the report (page 23 of the pdf file). And on page 9 (16 of the pdf) is an elaboration what kind of exchanges are eligible:

Health care exchanges, to be established by states by 2014, are marketplaces for individuals and certain types of employers to purchase health insurance.

Finally, a helping hand to Sarah Kliff. She made this observation:

Sen. Ted Kennedy's death in December 2010 lost the Democrats their supermajority in the Senate — and meant that the health law wouldn't survive a second vote in the Senate.

Um, Sarah. Obamacare was passed by the Senate in a December 2009 vote. Senator Kennedy wasn't there since he had died in August 2009. I will understand if you don't want to give your humble correspondent credit when your error is corrected but I wouldn't mind accepting an edible arrangement at the Jimmy McGill Restaurant as a thank you, heavy on the pineapple.