Jonathan Gruber Failed to Disclose His $392,600 Contracts with HHS (Updated)

MIT health economist Jonathan Gruber has been the go-to source that all the health care bill apologists point to to defend otherwise dubious arguments.  But he has consistently failed to disclose that he has had a sole-source contract with the Department of Health and Human Services since June 19, 2009 to consult on the “President’s health reform proposal.”

He is one source for the claim that the excise tax will result in raises for workers (though his underlying study is in-apt to the excise tax question). He is the basis for the argument that the Senate bill reduces families’ risk–even if it remains totally unaffordable. Even Politico stenographer Mike Allen points to Gruber’s research.

But none of the references to Gruber I’ve seen have revealed that Gruber has a $297,600 contract with HHS to produce,

a technical memorandum on the estimated changes in health insurance coverage and associated costs and impacts to the government under alternative specifications of health system reform. The requirement includes developing 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. [my emphasis]

(h/t Mote Dai)

The President’s health reform proposal? But I thought this was the Senate’s health reform proposal?!?!? (wink!)

Now, HHS says they had to put Dr. Gruber in charge of evaluating health care reform proposals because he’s got,

a proven micro-simulation model with the flexibility to ascertain the distribution of changes in health care spending and public and private sector health care costs due to a large variety of changes in health insurance benefit design, public program eligibility criteria, and tax policy.

Even assuming that Gruber is the only one in the world who can run these simulations, don’t you think it’s rather, um, dubious that the guy evaluating the heath care reform–for $300,000–is also the package’s single biggest champion?

And no one has been transparent about this contract?

Update: Actually, Gruber failed to disclose his $392,600 contracts with HSS. The reference to ongoing work in the bigger, second one refers to a $95,000 contract he had from March 25, 2009 to July 25, 2009.

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    • emptywheel says:

      Actually, the problem is much greater than that. People have repeatedly used Gruber’s work to support arguments that they don’t actually support (his only “proof” that the excise tax will raise wages is a study on how employers raise wages on non-fertile women after maternity care is mandated, and on that EVERYONE has based their claims).

      So you have to ask–did a bunch of “intelligent” people just lose all their critical thinking skills? Or is someone feeding a bunch of other nominally independent “journalists” Gruber’s claims, and they’re publishing it for some reason or another?

      • klynn says:

        Didn’t The Atlantic do a big piece with his research? Was it not an article Rahm told WH staff to read or don’t come back to work?

      • qweryous says:

        “So you have to ask–did a bunch of “intelligent” people just lose all their critical thinking skills? ”

        Maybe, or perhaps turned off the thinking in the interest of something else.

        “Or is someone feeding a bunch of other nominally independent “journalists” Gruber’s claims, and they’re publishing it for some reason or another?”

        Some reason or other for publishing what they are fed?

        It will be revealed soon, modern search and matching skills will reveal who published what.
        Credited or uncredited, it will be known if it appeared in print or on tube.

        This will fall apart quickly, these participants aren’t skilled enough to pull this off.

        • emptywheel says:

          Well, it’s all pretty cozy. Kaiser Foundation seems to have brokered some of these articles, and it has some kind of payment deal at least with TNR (if not WaPo, though I’d bet a quarter they’ve got a similar deal with WaPo). (And remember, Kaiser was going to be the one funding teh Pay2Play salons.)

          But I’ve asked fairly intelligent people for substance for the excise tax, and they all point to Gruber, and they can’t argue WHY Gruber’s work supports their argument which it doesnt.

          So that’s my guess.

          And you gotta believe Rahm would be at the middle of this…

          • qweryous says:

            Long quote from the contract document below that covers points 1-4.

            1. Long ongoing relationship with ASPE (Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation )At Dept HHS.

            2. Proprietary Gruber developed method of analysis ( unique results because?) Apparently used before (where when- Ans: California?)

            3. Ongoing work at the time of this contract.

            4. ASPE described purpose From DHHS website
            “The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) is the principal advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on policy development, and is responsible for major activities in policy coordination, legislation development, strategic planning, policy research, evaluation, and economic analysis.”

            From the currently discussed contract document.

            “Dr. Gruber is uniquely positioned to provide the analytic work ASPE requires based on over 15 years of experience in health care and health policy. Dr. Gruber is a recognized expert in health policy in economics including being widely published in peer-reviewed academic and health policy literature on the effects of changes in health benefit designs on the cost of enrollment in health insurance. Moreover, in order to estimate the impacts, Dr. Gruber developed a proprietary statistically sophisticated micro-simulation model that has the flexibility to ascertain the distribution of changes in health care spending and public and private sector health care costs due to a large variety of changes in health insurance benefit design, public program eligibility criteria, and tax policy. This model has been used for other health reform proposal. Finally, Dr. Gruber’s ongoing work with ASPE, using these proprietary models to help inform the Office of Health Reform, strongly positions him to meet HHS’ requirements the most efficiently, which is a key requirement in order for well-developed legislative proposals to be put forth for Congressional consideration as soon as possible.”

            How many more of the 16 that contacted Obama were paid by the administration? See Atlantic article provided by klynn @9.

    • papau says:

      The problem is that Gruber is not an actuary – he serves on the Massachusetts Connector (the universal coverage for health body) but that bodies actuary is Ian Duncan, FSA FIA FCIA MAAA, President, Solucia Inc.

      I am a retired actuary – an insurance actuary – and Gruber does not know what the hell he is talking about.

      Yet Gruber claims a rise in “actuarial value” from 60% to 70% – yet that term is well defined to mean something other than what he uses it for. He is claiming a larger percentage of total health costs in a small sub-group – the nearly poor- will be either paid or partially paid – it is unclear – by insurance – with no reference as to ability to pay or what is needed care. I do not know why the aversion to hiring real actuaries as consultants – and instead using studies by actuaries for ins co clients who dictate how the results are to be presented (I note the health industry study for the ins co’s by PriceWaterhouseCoopers who went public with fact the data was mis-used/mis-represented – which is what happens with a strong actuarial ethics board). But to use a study by a non actuary, with all due respect to professional health economists and policy persons, is a bit suspect.

  1. klynn says:

    That is quite the Kos find there.

    A major crack in the transparency bubble.

    The spin tomorrow will require high cut boots.

    But the bigger question is, who paid him initially to develop the model? From my read of the contract, it sounds like he had the model in hand and was simply contracted to crunch the numbers into his existing model and promote his findings. Where did the funding come from to create the model?

  2. PJEvans says:

    Transparency is for little people. Important people can hide whatever they want. (I wish it was a joke.)

    • David Dayen says:

      Yes, that’s the one where he said he couldn’t think of one cost control method that wasn’t in the Senate bill.

      I guess bargaining for cheaper drug prices escaped him.

    • emptywheel says:

      It’s all totally fucking recursive, and Gruber is at the center. And at least on the excise tax, his research doesn’t support the arguments multiple people say it does.

      • klynn says:

        This on the heels of AIG and Geinther…

        Head. In. Hands.

        It is somewhat similar to the rent-a-general episode.

        Keep digging on this EW. This is a big chuck of breadcrumb.

        • Mauimom says:

          This on the heels of AIG and Geinther…

          Since I first read Cynthia’s story on this a bit earlier today, I’ve been searching around to see how other media “outlets” are handling it.

          Nothing on Keith Olberman
          Nothing on Rachel Maddow
          Buried in the weeds at Huff Po
          Nothing @ TPM

          I guess a football game and terror, terror, TERROR are the bright shiny objects of the evening.

  3. qweryous says:

    Booshed again.

    Shades of Guckert/Gannon.

    Loo Hoo @3
    NOT GOOBER- he wouldn’t have done something like this, far too honest.

    Paid shill = MAJOR FAIL.

    Who was responsible for this contract? Both the issuance, and the monitoring. Whose budget?

    Particularly the monitoring, as if the president has had no proposal then what work has been done under the contract, and what work if any has been paid for?

    Once Grassley is on this there will be Goober chasing Gruber.

  4. NYCprochoiceMD says:

    Wow, I was pretty shocked when I read the article in the Atlantic that @klynn linked back in November. I couldn’t believe that he said:

    “My summary is it’s really hard to figure out how to bend the cost curve, but I can’t think of a thing to try that they didn’t try. They really make the best effort anyone has ever made. Everything is in here….I can’t think of anything I’d do that they are not doing in the bill. You couldn’t have done better than they are doing.”

    I was shocked that a health economist would actually think that the piece of crap bill in front of us was the best effort anyone has ever made. All the other economists thought public option, single payer, negotiation for pharmaceutical prices, medicare buy-in would be more cost-effective, but not Gruber. But I figured he must have had a good reason for saying that, and that it was too complicated for me to understand.

    His good reason was $300K. That is not too complicated for anyone.

    • mattcarmody says:

      Notice that no one is asking Vicente Navarro what he thinks about the Democratic health care “reform” plans. He’s one health care policy wonk you won’t see Olbermann or Maddow talking to. No, too toxic to the powers-that-be, too lefty for the faux progressives at MSNBC.

    • qweryous says:

      Similar articles you might have read…there may be an explanation for them now.

      Similar articles may help determine who has been doing what wrt to this issue.

      I ignored some of them thinking it was the opposition nonsense, but there may have been an error in my analysis.

      Submit other suspicious articles for examination if you choose.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Isn’t this the sort of self-referential administration spin that the Left lambasted when Cheney did it to support his “evidence” of WMD’s. The guy doing the research can’t be the most vocal advocate for its conclusions. They have to be vetted to be credible.

    The particular claim that today’s business model would allow for increases in wages owing to a reduction in his or her employer’s costs has had their head up their ass for thirty years. About the only way that happens below the VP level is if you own the company and increase your own compensation. It is passing strange that this nonsense is not thrown out with guffaws.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    An MIT economics professor might make a million dollars or more a year. But a $300,000 contract is still a lot of money there and in DC. Failure to disclose is fraud. Team Bush’s peripheral players were lambasted for less lucrative undisclosed conflicts of interest.

    This failure to disclose leads to the conclusion that the propaganda Wurlitzer is bellowing.

  7. rosalind says:

    current latimes headline: “Health overhaul could save money and boost jobs, researchers say”

    In a report to be released Friday, Harvard and USC economists say legislation being considered would slow cost increases and free up money for companies to raise wages and hire more workers.

    wow, smell the synergy! ut-toh, business people not so swayed:

    Several California employers said they found the Harvard-USC study hard to believe, given that the average employer has paid double-digit annual increases in insurance premiums for several years and experienced other escalating business costs.

    Santa Monica attorney Jeffrey Lee Costell, for one, says he will probably hold off hiring additional clerical staff if provisions remain in the healthcare legislation that require companies like his — those with payrolls exceeding $500,000 — to pick up the bulk of insurance premiums or face penalties.

    “It’s going to have a chilling effect,” Costell said. “We’re getting penalized because we are productive entrepreneurs.”

    • rosalind says:

      the one author of the study quoted in the la times article is David Cutler, identified as a Harvard economist and Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress.

      The fact he was a health adviser to Candidate Obama goes unmentioned. From a 1/09 article discussing possible candidates for the next CMS Administrator:

      Harvard’s David Cutler: We assumed Cutler would get a top job right out of the gate. After all, Cutler was considered the top health advisor to Obama and serves/ed on the transition’s health policy working group. But we heard Cutler was going to coordinate the outside advisors to the campaign as part of the transition and may serve the campaign from his office at Harvard.

      From the preliminary press spin on this new report, it appears he indeed chose serving Obama from his office at Harvard.

  8. selise says:

    wow. i knew gruber was a shill, but i had no idea he was a paid shill.

    some background from the diaries:

    nov 3: based on ahip data, gruber is quoted saying that ma premium costs have gone down 40% (my reply here)

    nov 4: The CBO and the House public option – saving money, lowering premiums. (my reply here.)

    nov 30: Gruber: Yes, health care costs would indeed go down (my reply here).

    …….

    So you have to ask–did a bunch of “intelligent” people just lose all their critical thinking skills? Or is someone feeding a bunch of other nominally independent “journalists” Gruber’s claims, and they’re publishing it for some reason or another

    re is someone feeding gruber’s claims? ask jason, he may know or have a clue.

  9. qweryous says:

    This is they guy that is appears to be (acting?) ASPE DHHS name Donald B Moulds.

    His picture on DHHS website matches this picture from a different engagement:
    Vice President California Medical Association Board of Directors. LINK:
    http://www.thecmafoundation.org/about/Moulds.aspx
    Not on the website currently, not sure how old the linked document is.

    A previous California engagement for Moulds: Alphabet soup of groups for healthcare reform: Moulds working for the state senate in a research role?LINK:
    http://www.chipolicy.org/pdf/5666.Convergence Vol 1 Issue 1.pdf

  10. qweryous says:

    Reply to selise @27

    “My long Quote above at 23 comes from the contract “synopsis” gottten to by clicking the hot link “PRODUCE” in EWs original post.

    I’ll repeat part of the quote:

    “This model has been used for other health reform proposal. Finally, Dr. Gruber’s ongoing work with ASPE, using these proprietary models to help inform the Office of Health Reform, strongly positions him to meet HHS’ requirements the most efficiently,”

    I haven’t looked yet, but it seems like there likely are additional/and or previous contracts from the language.

    Also who else has used Gruber’s

    “proprietary statistically sophisticated micro-simulation model that has the flexibility to ascertain the distribution of changes in health care spending and public and private sector health care costs due to a large variety of changes in health insurance benefit design, public program eligibility criteria, and tax policy.”?

    Expertise like this usually costs more than $297,000 without the 2600 Penn. Ave. discount.

  11. qweryous says:

    Some studies associated with David Cutler, likely also what the LA Times referred to:

    The rollout may not be as successful as had been planned.

    “why health reform will bend the cost curve” LINK:

    http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Content/Publications/Issue-Briefs/2009/Dec/Why-Health-Reform-Will-Bend-the-Cost-Curve.aspx

    The Lasted updated study with a date Jan 7, 2010 LINK:

    http://www.commonwealthfund.org/Content/Publications/Fund-Reports/2009/Nov/Starting-on-the-Path-to-a-High-Performance-Health-System.aspx

  12. qweryous says:

    [email protected] linked to this Atlantic article. LINK:

    http://politics.theatlantic.com/2009/11/a_milestone_in_the_health_care_journey.php

    Here is an excerpt.

    “Gruber is a leading health economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who is consulted by politicians in both parties. He was one of almost two dozen top economists who sent President Obama a letter earlier this month insisting that reform won’t succeed unless it “bends the curve” in the long-term growth of health care costs.”

    Question: Can someone provide a link to the letter referenced, and/or the signers of it?

    • Jim White says:

      Ethics violation for sure.

      Presumes facts not in evidence. I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the Obama Administration has anything approaching a code of ethics. See Emanuel, Rahm.

  13. emptywheel says:

    Okay, here’s more background on the contracts.

    His first contract (the one that the one we’re looking at is a followup to) was $95,000 to cover March 25 through July 25.

    The contracts database shows he received 392,600 in 2009. I guess that means the balance is for the January and February.

    • Peterr says:

      Some odd stuff there, EW, including a couple of “invalid code” references.

      But the oddest piece is under “Contractor Characteristics (Award)” near the bottom of the materials on award #1, where it says that Gruber is a two-person sole proprietorship (note: this is one of those invalid codes). Presumably this means Gruber and an office person of some sort. But then lower down in that section it says “Nonprofit organization — Yes”

      Unless Gruber has filed some documentation as a non-profit organization (IRS Form 990? 501(c)3?), or is trying to claim his affiliation with MIT makes him non-profit (but he marked “Educational Insitution — No”), this is rather hard to believe.

      And if he has filed documents declaring his sole proprietorship a non-profit organization, they would certainly bear examining.

  14. ezdidit says:

    What is particularly galling is the astroturfing model of faulty claims based on presumably sound research, but it’s skewed to mislead via The Atlantic article…as if a single source would be used for any other purpose.

    ‘Anonymous sources’ could have done a better job. What a wretched excuse….

  15. eCAHNomics says:

    Thanks emptywheel. This explains a lot. I have not been in the weeds on HCR, but this particular link helps be catch up quickly.

  16. KarenM says:

    I wonder if Gruber, with his 6-figure contract, also has one of those “cadillac” plans?

    He claims that those affected will receive increased pay. What a bunch of crap! Lower income workers (like myself) who have great health care coverage, have accepted that in lieu of higher wages.

    Taxing my health care?! I can barely make ends meet now!

  17. jo6pac says:

    It’s OK to do this the dark prince did it for the 8yrs and then memebers of Os $ team still getting payments. Illegal yes but know seems to care but US, you won’t see the O law team go after any one any time soon.

  18. ezdidit says:

    11 months from the midterms (and Rahm “thinking” of leaving for the Chicago Mayoralty?) watch Pres. Obama triangulate toward big talk about real reform. He better start today by locking out the corporate lobby. Even Scientific American gets it right:

    …the administration has repeatedly lost the opportunity to convey important information to the American people. Only one third of the U.S. public believes that man-made climate change is even real. The public has absolutely no idea about the modest costs and high benefits of bringing emissions under control. It suffers similarly hopeless confusion about health care, the stimulus package, financial reform and other policy initiatives.

    The complex, crucial issues we face require both expert inputs and public understanding. On each major issue of public policy, the administration should first put forward a white paper explaining why it is calling for a policy initiative, what it will cost, what benefits it will bring and how it will work. Legislative proposals should be shaped around these strategy documents. Independent expert groups should be invited to draft responses.

    Most important, lobbying needs to be scorned rather than promoted. If given a chance, the public would back the Obama administration in facing down these narrow interests, the very interests that have contributed so much to our financial meltdowns, overpriced health care, clunker automobiles and energy insecurity. Scientists, engineers and public policy specialists can help craft real solutions, and an enlightened and trusted public would help put those solutions into place above the opposition of narrow interests.

    Thus far, the President has wasted his mandate and chosen to sit back & oversee the American dystopia. The view must be nice from the White House.
    He needs no sycophants. He badly needs harsh criticism, and Progressives are flat-footed.

    • eCAHNomics says:

      Thus far, the President has wasted his mandate

      Disagree. Think he’s using his mandate vigorously to benefit his campaign contributors. And seems to be succeeding.

  19. klynn says:

    Just read Sen Casey’s “yea Gruber” from November.

    Evidenting Gruber has been “lending” his help to the federal government.

    It’s here. Just scroll down to Casey-PA

  20. ondelette says:

    Can somebody slow down and explain the conflict of interest here, please? Someone who is coming up with information and modeling predictions on a health plan is being paid by the government to come up with information and modeling predictions on a health plan? Did you expect him to do the work for free?

    I understand you don’t like the quality of his work, and on that it is quite reasonable to criticize him, and find fault with his predictions. But someone coming up with predictions for the government is being paid by the government to come up with predictions hardly sounds like a conflict of interest, at least in the usual definition of the term. What is it you’re assuming, or I’m missing?

    • eCAHNomics says:

      I don’t understand it as a conflict of interest, but rather having a paid shill when you don’t reveal that he is a paid shill.

      • ondelette says:

        Did people believe he wasn’t working for the government? He’s a professor, his work needs to be funded. Is there a source of funding that he should have been paid by, instead? What would a more neutral source be?

        Make no mistake, I’m not justifying the content of his work. I’m only asking why this particular funding revelation is shocking. And what a non-shocking funding source could possibly look like, given that you would really have a conflict if he were funded privately, and that there aren’t a whole lot of other sources dripping with cash to fund these predictions.

        • hctomorrow says:

          He’s being paid by an administration which has just dramatically increased his funding at the same time as it pushes a major initiative on which he is a prominent backer and is considered to be an authoritative source, all without disclosing these facts.

          • ondelette says:

            I guess I’m just not seeing the corruption here. A guy gets extra funding at the same time that the government is pushing a plan to analyze the plan. Part of pushing the plan is to show the due diligence of analyzing its costs, so they need to pay someone to do that regardless of whether the plan is pure gold or pure shit. They pay an economist at a university, he becomes the ‘go to guy’ on the expenses in the plan.

            If you are complaining that he has crossed the line into advocating the plan instead of analyzing it, that is a transgression. If you are complaining that he should have disclosed that the government was paying him to work numbers on a government proposal, that seems strange. If you are alleging that HHS is a corrupt player in the health care business and doesn’t give grants out by proper procedure, but rather to bribe university professors into coming up with favorable numbers for the White House, my first response is — ‘HHS?’ (in tones resembling John Malkovich’s ‘The Russians?’ in Burn After Reading). And my next is — That’s yet another allegation and doesn’t have much to do with Jonathan Gruber personally.

            • hctomorrow says:

              The point is that any major potential conflict should be disclosed. It is not impugning, necessarily, the HHS or Gruber’s research; the reason you disclose conflicts isn’t because you think you’re being corrupted, it’s as a safeguard against said corruption.

              People are not robots, and they can, despite all efforts to the contrary, be influenced by money and the desire to get MORE money. Likewise, governments can give money for the wrong reasons. Disclosure is an essential safeguard, to allow us as the readers or evaluators of research to judge for ourselves the risk that the person presenting it has been unduly swayed by, say, a large paycheck.

              • ondelette says:

                But it isn’t a conflict to be paid by the government to work government numbers. Are you alleging he’s being paid by the government to do advocacy for the plan?

                • hctomorrow says:

                  I’m saying that if anyone pays you a large amount of money to do research, or walk their dog, or anything else, and you then advocate for them or their position, or publish work on the subject, it is incumbent upon you to disclose this financial relationship on the grounds that it might (or might not!) unduly influence your thinking and results.

                • selise says:

                  Are you alleging he’s being paid by the government to do advocacy for the plan?

                  this is not the point of the post, and so i’m somewhat reluctant to respond… but, having read two of gruber’s “reports” i do want to add that they were in no way what i would call “research” (i’d probably fail a first year college student for them). advocacy is, imo, a slightly more accurate description of the reports i read. flamingly bad propaganda is, imo, an even more accurate description. they were so bad i don’t know why anyone would take gruber seriously on healthcare reform (other than to do what scarecrow did, which was to point out the flaws).

            • Watt4Bob says:

              I guess I’m just not seeing the corruption here. A guy gets extra funding at the same time that the government is pushing a plan to analyze the plan. Part of pushing the plan is to show the due diligence of analyzing its costs, so they need to pay someone to do that regardless of whether the plan is pure gold or pure shit.

              Your attitude doesn’t surprise me, it’s a perfect summation of the reason we can’t regain control of our own government. Too many people who demonstrate only vague notions of what constitutes ethical behavior insist that their ill-informed opinions carry as much weight as the opinions of those who have a firm grounding in the subject.

              There are experts in every large university whose job it is to research, study, and teach the disciplines of economics, public health policy, healthcare policy, and their relationships to each other. These faculty members are already paid for their work and would gladly lend a hand in explaining their understanding of the proposed HCR in terms of economic impact, access to care, and they’d do it without being bribed because they consider sharing their knowledge to part and parcel of their commitment to their chosen profession, which entails a significant portion of public service.

              Mr. Gruber’s expert opinion has been touted as-if it is the natural product of his professional academic investigations and as such can be trusted to be his best, impartial assessment, it is clear that this is not true.

              While it may not be clear to you, it’s clear to anyone with an educated opinion that the ‘job’ Mr. Gruber has been doing for the White House HHS is providing numbers that support their position, in other words, propaganda.

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                You’ve hit the nail. The issue is Gruber’s impartiality, now clearly suspect. That his conclusions may be faulty or completely wrong is another significant problem.

                I do think that “sponsored research” is spreading among universities in a potentially corrupt way, in that industries pay cooperative, promising academics for research, own it, then control the dissemination based on whether it meets their marketing needs. A bright researcher would be hard pressed not to veer toward what the market wants and is willing to fund.

                What was the movie line, disputing the relative need for sex or rationalization? Rationalization came in first.

                • ondelette says:

                  I do think that “sponsored research” is spreading among universities in a potentially corrupt way, in that industries pay cooperative, promising academics for research, own it, then control the dissemination based on whether it meets their marketing needs. A bright researcher would be hard pressed not to veer toward what the market wants and is willing to fund.

                  And who pays for research that isn’t “sponsored research”? I’ll give you three guesses: government grants, government contracts, foundations. If you were establishing that your work was squeaky clean, which would you choose?

            • phred says:

              ondelette, not sure if anyone else has gotten to this point yet in answer to your question, but I’m short on time and wanted to chime in…

              The problem you are having I think is in confusing the basis of generally accepted academic federal funding and this kind of a sole source contract for proprietary work. Yes, most academic research is paid for by government agencies (NIH, EPA, NSF, DOE, DOD, NASA, NOAA, etc.). However, the researchers who receive such money typically have to submit proposals in response to a competitive call. All the proposals submitted are reviewed and in principle the best proposals are funded. Everything is on the up and up.

              The problem here is the nature of a sole-source contract coupled with proprietary software. Sole-source means there was no competitive bidding process that underwent peer review to determine who was best suited to do the work needed. So basically they hired this guy because they knew in advance what they were getting. So that’s the first indication that maybe we shouldn’t rely too heavily on his opinion.

              The second part of the problem here has to do with his proprietary model. In general (and I’m assuming this is the case here, but do not know that as a fact), proprietary software means no one else gets to know what is in it. No one else gets to evaluate the math that’s used nor the assumptions that go into the calculation. This is very bad. It gives the owner of such software a lot of flexibility to employ dubious premises for their work and it becomes exceedingly difficult for anyone else to ascertain what was actually done.

              So now here you have this guy who has been paid a lot of money ($300k for a single year of effort using a model that already exists is way outside the norm that I am familiar with) shilling a particular point of view with limited information to challenge him. On top of that the popular press isn’t the right venue for really getting down to the brass tacks on one’s work. So essentially in the press he’s “an expert” and people assume an unbiased one. Yet the manner in which he has been paid suggests that there has been a bias from the moment he was hired.

              • earlofhuntingdon says:

                Presumably, the generous funding (nearly $400K) paid for two additional things: his undivided attention during the Congressional debate over health insurance “reform”, and his vocal advocacy for his own conclusions.

                The stakes for Gruber are high, and not just in terms of continued academic prestige (or discredit, if he or his proprietary analysis is tarnished). If Gruber is seen as successful in helping Obama and the Senate’s views prevail, you’ll be able to walk from inside the Beltway to Cambridge, MA, on the pages of his new, privately funded research contracts.

              • ondelette says:

                The problem here is the nature of a sole-source contract coupled with proprietary software. Sole-source means there was no competitive bidding process that underwent peer review to determine who was best suited to do the work needed. So basically they hired this guy because they knew in advance what they were getting. So that’s the first indication that maybe we shouldn’t rely too heavily on his opinion.

                So you are alleging that something is wrong with the awarding of the contract, that the HHS was corruptly awarding the contract. Fair enough, but ‘sole source’ is not proof of that. You need to work harder to show that there was a corrupt reason to not bid the contract out. There may well have been, but you need to prove an untoward prior connection between source and contractor.

                The second part of the problem here has to do with his proprietary model. In general (and I’m assuming this is the case here, but do not know that as a fact), proprietary software means no one else gets to know what is in it. No one else gets to evaluate the math that’s used nor the assumptions that go into the calculation. This is very bad. It gives the owner of such software a lot of flexibility to employ dubious premises for their work and it becomes exceedingly difficult for anyone else to ascertain what was actually done.

                That his technique is proprietary and he doesn’t disclose how it works is a legitimate criticism. What does the NEJM article say? Does he disclose it there? The reviewers should have caught that, unless they feel that his techniques were standard for the industry even if proprietary.

                So now here you have this guy who has been paid a lot of money ($300k for a single year of effort using a model that already exists is way outside the norm that I am familiar with) shilling a particular point of view with limited information to challenge him. On top of that the popular press isn’t the right venue for really getting down to the brass tacks on one’s work. So essentially in the press he’s “an expert” and people assume an unbiased one. Yet the manner in which he has been paid suggests that there has been a bias from the moment he was hired.

                $300K for 1 year’s effort employs how many people? The university takes half, then it’s 12,500/month. How many people are being billed to the contract and what are the expenses? Do you know?

                Your criticism that he’s an “expert” in the press and assumed unbiased is a valid one — against the press. And if there were some program in place like the psyops/disinformation campaign in the Pentagon with the “military experts” that is also quite an allegation against everyone involved. The investigation done here so far hasn’t revealed that, or am I wrong?

            • emptywheel says:

              Two sources of corruption.

              1) Yes, he had to disclose. It’s the only scientifically sound thing to do. Maybe he wasn’t swayed by the $400,000. But then why not disclose it.

              2) He is assessing the viability of the program at the same time as he is advocating for the viability of the program. THat means they’re forgoing real independent assessment of their program. Given that it has very elementary, obvious problems (such as the fact that he ignores the MA program, which should offer the best data to estimate what will happen in the national program), that suggests that all teh claims the admin has made about the program may be flawed and inaccurate.

              • ondelette says:

                So the allegation is of government corruption.

                1) Yes, he had to disclose. It’s the only scientifically sound thing to do. Maybe he wasn’t swayed by the $400,000. But then why not disclose it.

                Where? He did in NEJM. He’s required to, the journal makes that clear. So do other journals. Besides, most people working on government contracts and grants want the government to know when they publish peer-reviewed articles so they willingly disclose without being asked. In mainstream media, all bets are off and it isn’t necessarily disingenuousness on the part of the researcher.

                And what do you mean by ‘swayed by the $400,000’? Do you know what research budgets are in general terms? Do you know how many people he is funding off the money? You seem to be implying that it’s pocket-lining, which requires a whole lot more information.

                2) He is assessing the viability of the program at the same time as he is advocating for the viability of the program. THat means they’re forgoing real independent assessment of their program. Given that it has very elementary, obvious problems (such as the fact that he ignores the MA program, which should offer the best data to estimate what will happen in the national program), that suggests that all teh claims the admin has made about the program may be flawed and inaccurate.

                Okay, this para is very mixed. First sentence: Was there a requirement of impartiality in the assessment? In which report? If there was a report filed with the government as per the contract that was supposed to be pure assessment was it? After that’s done, he’s entitled to his opinion on the plan he studied, unless prohibited from speaking on it.

                The second sentence is an allegation of government corruption, not an allegation against the integrity of the researcher.

                The remainder of the paragraph attacks his research methods and their conclusions. That’s fine, finish backing it up. But that is a criticism of his science, or just advocacy of your own. That’s singularly disconnected from the allegation of corruption. If it’s not, how does one determine your criticisms aren’t also motivated by advocacy.

                The point I’m making is that disagreement with his results and allegations of corruption are two very different things. And the existence of a government grant or contract doesn’t prove shilling for the government. It usually proves you aren’t in the pocket of a corporation.

                • emptywheel says:

                  He didn’t disclose it in July to NEJM.

                  And the problem with him doing both the pitchman and the assessment is that no one is fact-checking his claim (and as a result, no one is fact-checking the Administration’s claims). You may be okay basing a entire $850 billion reform with no independent assessment. I’m not–it’s dangerous and stupid.

                  • earlofhuntingdon says:

                    You may be okay basing a entire $850 billion reform with no independent assessment. I’m not–it’s dangerous and stupid.

                    A pithy understatement. The quality of this reform will affect the lives and livelihoods of every middle and working class American family. What Congress does to pay for it is likely to affect the current health care benefits of those that have them, and the currents system of employer-only health insurance. It will dramatically empower existing health insurers, while putting their economic competitors – customers and the government – at a disadvantage.

                    We deserve more than a sales job for a policy already cut by the White House before debate began on the health care and/or insurance reforms we need, want and are willing to pay for.

              • bobschacht says:

                EW,
                Thanks for your concise response to ondelette. I was contemplating a response myself, but yours was far more concise than mine would have been– and probably more lucid, too!

                Bob in AZ

        • concerned says:

          Great Point. I don’t see anything in the description of his HHS mandate that says he has to support one position over others, simply that he has to explore various models. Is the controversy about the fact that he is doing this with government funding rather than with the support of private industry?

          This seems a lot like the controversy over a government conspiracy to only fund research that supports human contributions to global warming.

          I’m getting more and more disenchanted with the progressive media like Huffpost who seem to have decided that it is better to use catchy (but misleading) headers to articles just for the sensationalism (sounds like Fox to me).

          • NYCprochoiceMD says:

            The reason it’s “shocking” is that he has been widely quoted, as in that Atlantic article, without any mention of his inherent conflict of interest. Besides, receiving government funding for research is one thing; receiving government funding specifically for research & policy directly related to (and arguably contingent upon) approval of current plans proposed for legislation is a different story. Should it not be allowed? Not necessarily, but journalists at publications such as the Atlantic should disclose this information prominently in the article.

    • Scarecrow says:

      It’s normal for government to hire experts to provide expertise. No problem there. It’s normal for experts to provide their independent judgment concerning government proposals, and even to be advocates of such proposals, if, in their judgement, the proposals are worthy. No problem so far.

      What’s expected of experts is that they reveal who, if anyone, is paying for their work. When they come out with analysis, and they send it around to reporters/bloggers/etc, as their own, it’s appropriate to disclose any connections. Then the recipients/readers can evaluate the statements and analysis and draw their own conclusions.

      For the government’s part, it can surely hire experts and have them defend their proposals. But when the government cites an expert as supporting their position, but fails to disclose that they’re paying that expert, that’s a problem.

      We appear to have examples of failure to disclose by the expert and by the government. In the meantime, several people relied on analyses and statements made by this expert, but they didn’t disclose the connection either, which suggests at least that they were not told. For examples, see the links here: http://seminal.firedoglake.com/diary/21054

      • ondelette says:

        What’s expected of experts is that they reveal who, if anyone, is paying for their work. When they come out with analysis, and they send it around to reporters/bloggers/etc, as their own, it’s appropriate to disclose any connections. Then the recipients/readers can evaluate the statements and analysis and draw their own conclusions.

        Um, no. It’s normal to ask the reporters who went to the source to disclose the source and the source’s affiliations. Aside from that, it’s normal for an expert to acknowledge funding for a piece of research, when publishing in a journal or a white paper. It’s up to the reporter to ask in an interview, and if it’s relevant and the reporter did not do so, then fault the reporter.

        • hctomorrow says:

          Gruber hasn’t just been solicited by reporters, he’s also gone out of his way on his own to advocate for a specific policy position; an op-ed in the WaPo for example.

          So surely, even if you feel the onus was on reporters during these interviews, you would concede that when he took it upon himself to be an unsolicited advocate that he should have disclosed the financial interest. Right?

  21. roblevine says:

    What is the conflict? He made it appear that his support for the plan is organic. In fact, he is being PAID, secretly, to support Obama’s “reform.” He is not independent, as he implies. When Bush did this by paying off journalists like Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher people on the left rightly complained and the two were more or less ostracized. There is a big difference between being independently for something and being paid to be for it.

  22. econobuzz says:

    I guess I’m just not seeing the corruption here.

    I guess you’re not looking very hard. In government, if there is an appearance of conflict of interest, there IS a conflict of interest. “Believing in what he’s saying” has nothing the fuck to do with it.

    Everyone involved here has an appearance of conflict of interest that amounts to a conflict of interest — right up to Obama.

    • ondelette says:

      I guess you’re not looking very hard. In government, if there is an appearance of conflict of interest, there IS a conflict of interest. “Believing in what he’s saying” has nothing the fuck to do with it.

      Please name an unconflicted source of income for crunching numbers on a proposed piece of government spending. If the institution you name is the government and you allege corruption because the government paid to have the government’s numbers analyzed, you’re being ridiculous.

      If on the other hand, you are alleging massive corruption in HHS or NIH, which then carries the burden of showing that HHS grants, probably the number 2 source of all government research money after the Defense Department, are massively corrupt. You seem to be asserting that the government is running a psyops program out of HHS. If that’s the case, we can all start wondering whether any health results or public health numbers whatsoever are trustworthy. If that’s the case, then say so, and drop the straw man named Gruber, and start naming grant administrators and FOAs and revolving doors, and corrupt officials, and all the rest needed to make your case.

      • hctomorrow says:

        What, precisely, is the harm in disclosing this financial interest?

        You’re arguing with strawmen. No one that I’ve seen has said that accepting any HHS grant makes you corrupt, or that all HHS grants are awarded in a corrupt fashion, so you might as well drop that ridiculous line of attack.

        On the other hand, AN HHS grant most certainly could be corrupt, or be corrupting upon a researcher. So why not disclose it? What benefit is there to keeping it secret, other than the obvious?

        • ondelette says:

          What, precisely, is the harm in disclosing this financial interest?

          None whatsoever. The allegation that it is corrupt requires more, though.

          • hctomorrow says:

            I never said it was corrupt, though it may very well be. It is, however, dishonest and a lie of omission.

            In fact, I specifically said that the obligation to disclose is a prophylactic against POSSIBLE corruption, and not merely a requirement that you make disclosures after being corrupted (which should go without saying)

            To prove that it was corruption, rather than arrogance, dishonesty, stupidity, what not, would require additional work, yes.

            Dishonesty has already been established, however. Gruber knew he had an obligation to disclose (as Marcy notes in the followup, he did so in the New England Journal of Medicine), yet he did not diclose whenever he thought he could get away with it, up to and including original works he wrote to be published in the mainstream press.

        • ondelette says:

          On the other hand, AN HHS grant most certainly could be corrupt, or be corrupting upon a researcher. So why not disclose it? What benefit is there to keeping it secret, other than the obvious?

          Did he purposely hide it? Did someone ask him to name his funding sources and he didn’t? Or did no one ask and he didn’t volunteer the information? Those are totally different, since the volunteering, as I said, occurs for grants in a footnote to the abstract in a journal paper, or in a footnote to the introduction in a white paper. Something else, like the reporter failing to ask about it or report it is not “keeping it secret”.

          The man was being paid to crunch numbers and write an assessment. He appears to have done so. No, papau, he is not an actuary, he’s an economist. They are allowed to crunch numbers and make predictions as well.

          I believe the case you people are trying to make is that he was paid by the government to advocate a particular plan to the press. I don’t see that you’ve made that case, and it is not my ‘straw man’. You are alleging conflict of interest. That’s alleging corruption. Prove corruption. Not disclosing that you didn’t crunch the government’s numbers for free is not evidence of corruption.

          Get it straight. Unless and until the public sees fit to really fund research some other way, and unless and until the public demands that all government numbers be crunched in house, professors are going to fund their academic work by government grants and by taking on government contracts. In the health care business, that is considered infinitely less corrupt than accepting money from the private sector, remember? So make your case of a quid pro quo between the government and its contractor to sell the plan, or make the case of a contractor that is improperly advocating when being paid to be impartial. Or don’t, and maybe disagree with Jonathan Gruber on the strength of his arguments.

          Dishonesty has already been established, however. Gruber knew he had an obligation to disclose (as Marcy notes in the followup, he did so in the New England Journal of Medicine), yet he did not diclose whenever he thought he could get away with it, up to and including original works he wrote to be published in the mainstream press.

          Yes, of course he did so in NEJM. It’s a peer-reviewed journal. Look up the comment thread at what I said was standard procedure in journals and white papers. It’s disclosed in an acknowledgment at the end, or in a footnote to the abstract on page 1 of the article. The mainstream press, and quite a few non-peer reviewed magazines that publish science, don’t do footnotes. They have no established procedures for disclosure, it’s incumbent on the editor of the mainstream press outlet, or on the reporter if it’s an interview, not on the researcher. I’ve published in magazines that forbid footnotes and citations, it’s a pain in the ass. I’ve also published in peer-reviewed journals, and disclosure of government funding is automatic and will be requested by the editor if you don’t provide it.

          I fail to see that dishonesty has been proven.

          • hctomorrow says:

            Well, back from lunch. Let’s see…

            1) Marcy tells us he did not, in fact, disclose to the NEJM in July (94), only later. So he lied to them, when he obviously knew their policies.

            2) Once again you ignore what I say and state your opinion on the case I’m making. This shows you to be either illiterate or disingenuous. I’ve laid out the case that I’m making clearly, and I’ll do it one more time.

            A: Gruber lied by omission, to numerous reporters, editors and countless readers, when he failed to disclose an enormous conflict of interest regarding financial compensation on the issue for which his ‘expertise’ is being sought. He apparently outright lied to the NEJM in July.

            B: Financial disclosure is a good in and of itself, and failure to disclose an evil in and of itself, WITHOUT any additional harm or ‘corruption’ demonstrated. This disclosure acts as a safeguard for academic and governmental integrity, and helps to deter improper behavior, and reveal it when it has occurred. No crime need be committed, nor fraud perpetrated, to make failure to disclose, which is manifestly evident here, a problem.

            • Watt4Bob says:

              Almost half of this thread could easily be characterized as conversations with a bowling ball.

              Bowling balls are “read-only” by design, it’s a feature, not a bug, as they say.

  23. roblevine says:

    One other thing about this affair: Where has the NEJM been while Gruber’s been out peddling his fantasies? They knew he was being paid – but apparently didn’t tell anyone else, and because their journal is behind a paywall hardly anyone else could know of it either. It would have been easy for the editor of NEJM to call up the Washington Post after Gruber’s op-ed ran, or after he was showing up in all the news stories.

  24. earlofhuntingdon says:

    There are two issues. Gruber failed to disclose his no-bid contract, for which he and his university are paid well. Such disclosures are routine and required.

    Gruber is being used by the government (as if it were Cheney and Gruber were a NYT’s article leaked by him) to sell a national policy based on his own, proprietary and apparently non-peer reviewed research.

    He may be selling research results he believes in. It’s not clear that his results or method are correct. They are suspect as are his policy assumptions (ie, what cost is considered “affordable), but there is no forum in which properly to debate that before policy is set. This gambit turns the policy formulation process into a sales campaign (also a Cheney specialty).

    At best, the government-Gruber process is faulty. At worst, it’s a fraud on the public. In manufacturing terms, it is designing-building-selling a product at the same time rather than sequentially. By choice, there are no competing voices from finance, marketing, production and sourcing. Even if it’s a good design, it may be impossible to manufacture and it may not be what customers want or can afford to buy. But we’ll all have to pay for it in the end.

    • ondelette says:

      At best, the government-Gruber process is faulty. At worst, it’s a fraud on the public.

      I’ll take the faulty process if you don’t mind, until you have more. It’s that old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing we’re all brought up to believe in. You’re making an allegation that at its least destroys a researcher, and at its most is a criminal allegation. My concern is that you appear to be making it because you disagree with the researcher’s conclusions. That ain’t right.

      • qweryous says:

        I’ve read these comments, I’ll say it slightly differently.

        Take this apart:

        “I’ll take the faulty process if you don’t mind, until you have more. It’s that old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing we’re all brought up to believe in. You’re making an allegation that at its least destroys a researcher, and at its most is a criminal allegation. My concern is that you appear to be making it because you disagree with the researcher’s conclusions. That ain’t right.”

        First:
        “It’s that old ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing ”

        In a court proceeding it is important to know who is paying the witnesses testifying. Payment in any form monetary or other is a fact always open to discovery. Deception on this topic is cause for sanction. Payment is often used to question motive for conclusions being presented.

        This is at least deception by concealment. The motive seems obvious (results would have been questioned had the payments been known).

        Second:
        “You’re making an allegation that at its least destroys a researcher, and at its most is a criminal allegation.”

        That may be true, whether or not it rises to the level of criminal is not yet clear to me. The weight of the allegation has nothing to do with whether this issue should be discussed (or alternately covered up by not discussing the facts known so far).

        He knowing let the American taxpayer and lawmakers who did not know he had a monetary stake in this issue be misled, even as they paid the money that was used to mislead them.

        Third:
        “My concern is that you appear to be making it because you disagree with the researcher’s conclusions.”

        Not speaking for EOH rather myself:
        What I disagree with is that this is a fraud on the American people to have a paid shill advocate what he is secretly paid to advocate. His conclusions are indeed at least questionable, the fact of the undisclosed payment serves to further call out the questionable conclusions reached.

        Why hide the fact that he is sole source paid to do this.
        Why not present him as the well paid expert he is; the best that money can buy?
        I think I know the answer to that.

        This would be just as wrong if the guy was currently engaged in helping to attain Health care reform that would work.

        He is in my opinion NOT doing this, which is also NOT the issue.

        EDIT to First above: add sentence “The other possibility is that no one involved thought the money mattered. I don’t buy that. Watch the denials and decide for yourself if it was a failure to think.”

        • PJEvans says:

          In a court proceeding it is important to know who is paying the witnesses testifying. Payment in any form monetary or other is a fact always open to discovery. Deception on this topic is cause for sanction. Payment is often used to question motive for conclusions being presented.

          My brother was an expert witness for the defense in a civil case. There was another expert for the plaintiff. When they testified, the judge reminded the jury that my brother was being paid for his work, but he didn’t do that when the other expert testified.
          A little bias there?

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        It’s not a multiple choice menu.

        That this process has such a range of possible characterizations is why we need more information and disclosure about it, and why it should not be seen as an adequate basis to institute once-in-a-generation health insurance reforms that may substitute for credible health care reform.

  25. matutinal says:

    Hmm, EW you must be breaking some…eggs with this story; you are generating concern troll omelets.