Jonathan Gruber (economist)

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Jonathan Gruber
Jonathan Gruber at US House Oversight Cmte in 2014.jpg
Born (1965-09-30) September 30, 1965 (age 49)
Nationality American
Institution MIT
Field Health economics
Alma mater Harvard University (PhD, 1992)
MIT (BSc, 1987)
Information at IDEAS / RePEc

Jonathan Holmes Gruber (born September 30, 1965) is an American professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught since 1992.[1] He is also the director of the Health Care Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, where he is a research associate. An associate editor of both the Journal of Public Economics and the Journal of Health Economics, Gruber has been heavily involved in crafting public health policy.

He was a key architect of both the 2006 Massachusetts health care reform, sometimes referred to as "Romneycare",[2] and the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as the "ACA" and "Obamacare".[3] He became the focus of a media and political firestorm in late 2014 when videos surfaced in which he made controversial statements about the legislative process, marketing strategies, and public perception surrounding the passage of the ACA.

Early life[edit]

Gruber was born on September 30, 1965, son of Martin Jay Gruber and Ellie Gruber. His father, Martin, is Professor Emeritus of Finance at the New York University Stern School of Business, having been a professor there for 45 years. Jonathan Gruber was raised in the New York suburb of Ridgewood, New Jersey. He completed his BS in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1987 and his PhD in economics from Harvard University in 1992, with a thesis titled Changes in the Structure of Employer-Provided Health Insurance.[4]

Academic research career[edit]

Gruber began his career as an assistant professor of economics at MIT in 1992.[5] He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.[5] Gruber's research has focused on public finance and health economics.

Government work and consulting[edit]

During the 1997–1998 academic year, Gruber was on leave as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy at the United States Department of the Treasury.

Massachusetts health care reform[edit]

From 2003–06 he was a key architect of Massachusetts health care reform, also known as "Romneycare".[2] In 2006 he became an inaugural member of the Health Connector Board, the main implementing body for that effort. The same year, he was named the 19th most powerful person in health care in the United States by Modern Healthcare magazine.

During the 2008 election he was a consultant to the Clinton, Edwards and Obama presidential campaigns.[citation needed]

He was ousted from the Massachusetts Health Connector, February 2015.[6]

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act[edit]

In 2009–10 Gruber served as a technical consultant to the Obama Administration and worked with both the administration and U.S. Congress to help craft the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, often referred to as the ACA or "Obamacare".[7] The Act was signed into law in March 2010, and Gruber has been described as an "architect", "writer", and "consultant" of the legislation. He was widely interviewed and quoted during the roll-out of the legislation.[8][9][10][11][12]

Vermont health care reform[edit]

In 2010 and 2011, Gruber was involved in crafting and advocating for the Single-Payer and Unified Health System bill in Vermont;[13][14] the bill passed in May 2011. The bill established Green Mountain Care, which was planned to be the first-ever state-level single-payer health care system in the United States when it kicked in fully in 2017. Green Mountain Care was cancelled in December 2014 by Governor Peter Shumlin due to its projected costs becoming too high.[15]


Gruber has published more than 140 research articles (the majority of which were for NBER) and has edited six research volumes.[16] He is a co-editor of the Journal of Public Economics, an associate editor of the Journal of Health Economics, and the author of Public Finance and Public Policy.[17] In 2011, he wrote Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It's Necessary, How It Works, a graphic novel delineating the Affordable Care Act, illustrated by Nathan Schreiber.[3]

Gruber's published works include:

  • In 1999, the Quarterly Journal of Economics" published "Abortion legalization and child living circumstances: who is the 'marginal child'?"[18] a version of a which was prepared by Gruber and colleagues for the National Bureau of Economic Research[18] which suggests that the legalized abortion has a selective effect for reducing the birth of "marginal children" that saved the government over $14 billion in welfare payments through 1994.
  • Writing for the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2002, Gruber worked together with Sendhil Mullainathan on a paper titled “Do Cigarette Taxes Make Smokers Happier", which finds an improvement in smokers’ psychological state when cigarette taxes were hiked to provide disincentive to buy cigarettes.[19]
  • On February 15, 2006, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities published an article by Gruber entitled "The Cost and Coverage Impact of the President's Health Insurance Budget Proposals"[20]
  • In a December 4, 2008, New York Times op-ed, "Medicine for the Job Market", he claimed that expanding health insurance, even in difficult financial times would stimulate the economy.[21]
  • In an article for the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation in April 2010, titled "Taxing Sin to Modify Behavior and Raise Revenue", Gruber advocated a sort of "sin tax" for the obese. He uses the model of cigarette taxes. [22]
  • On February 9, 2011, the Center for American Progress published an article by Gruber titled "Health Care Reform Without the Individual Mandate," analyzing the health insurance coverage impacts of alternative policy options for encouraging purchase of health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, including the mandate, a late penalty, and auto-enrollment.[23]


In 2006, Gruber received the American Society of Health Economists Inaugural Medal for the best health economist in the nation aged 40 and under.[24] He was elected a member of the Institute of Medicine in 2005.[25] In 2009 he was elected to the Executive Committee of the American Economic Association.[citation needed]

In 2011 he was named “One of the Top 25 Most Innovative and Practical Thinkers of Our Time” by Slate Magazine. In both 2006 and 2012 he was rated as one of the top 100 most powerful people in health care in the United States by Modern Healthcare Magazine.[citation needed]



In January 2010, after news emerged that Gruber was under a $297,000 contract with the Department of Health and Human Services, while at the same time promoting the Obama administration's health care reform policies, some commentators suggested a conflict of interest.[26][27][28][29] Paul Krugman in The New York Times[30] argued that, although Gruber didn't always disclose his HHS connections, the times when he didn't were no big deal. In response to Krugman's contention, Salon's Glenn Greenwald wrote, "What will make it impossible to effectively call out wrongdoing by future corrupt administrations (by which Krugman seems to mean: Republican administrations) is the willingness of some people to tolerate and defend corruption when done by 'their side.'"[31]

Description of ACA subsidies[edit]

One heavily-scrutinized part of the ACA reads that subsidies should be given to healthcare recipients who are enrolled "through an Exchange established by the State". Some have read this to mean that subsidies can be given only in states that have chosen to create their own healthcare exchanges, and do not use the federal exchange, while the Obama administration says that the wording applies to all states. This dispute is currently part of an ongoing series of lawsuits referred to collectively as King v. Burwell. In July 2014, two separate recordings of Gruber, both from January 2012, surfaced in which he seemed to contradict the administration's position.[7] In one, Gruber states, in response to an audience question, that "if you’re a state and you don’t set up an exchange, that means your citizens don’t get their tax credits",[32] while in the other he says, "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."[33] When these recordings emerged, Gruber called these statements mistaken, describing them as "just a speak-o—you know, like a typo".[32]

"Grubergate" videos controversy[edit]

In November 2014, a series of videos emerged of Gruber speaking about the ACA at different events, from 2010 to 2013, in ways that proved to be controversial; the controversy became known in the press as "Grubergate".[34] Many of the videos show him talking about ways in which he felt the ACA was misleadingly crafted and/or marketed in order to get the bill passed, while in some of the videos he specifically refers to American voters as ill-informed or "stupid." In the first, most widely-publicized video taken at a panel discussion about the ACA at the University of Pennsylvania in October 2013, Gruber said the bill was deliberately written "in a tortured way" to disguise the fact that it creates a system by which "healthy people pay in and sick people get money." He said this obfuscation was needed due to "the stupidity of the American voter" in ensuring the bill's passage. Gruber said the bill's inherent "lack of transparency is a huge political advantage" in selling it.[35] The comments caused significant controversy.[36][37][38][39][40] In two subsequent videos, Gruber was shown talking about the decision (which he attributed to John Kerry) to have the bill tax insurance companies instead of patients (the so-called "Cadillac tax"), which he called fundamentally the same thing economically but more palatable politically. In one video, he stated that "the American people are too stupid to understand the difference" between the two approaches, while in the other he said that the switch worked due to "the lack of economic understanding of the American voter."[41] In another video, taken in 2010, Gruber expressed doubts that the ACA would significantly reduce health care costs, though he noted that lowering costs played a major part in the way the bill was promoted.[42] In another video, taken in 2011, Gruber again talks about manipulation behind the "Cadillac tax", this time also stating that the tax is designed so that, though it begins by affecting only 8% of insurance plans, it will "over the next 20 years" come to apply to nearly all employer-provided health plans.[43]

After the first of these videos came out, Gruber apologized for his wording, saying he "spoke inappropriately".[44] Some defenders of the ACA, such as Jonathan Cohn, called Gruber's statements about Americans "wrong and inappropriate" while maintaining that the trickery of which Gruber spoke was standard procedure for bills in Washington, and not a cause for scandal.[45][46] Opponents of the Act, on the other hand, were harsher in their criticism: commentator Rich Lowry said that the videos were emblematic of "the progressive mind, which values complexity over simplicity, favors indirect taxes and impositions on the American public so their costs can be hidden, and has a dim view of the average American,"[47] while commentator Charles Krauthammer called the first video "the ultimate vindication of the charge that Obamacare was sold on a pack of lies."[48] Conservative S. E. Cupp wrote that the videos also showed "willful ignorance" on Gruber's part in thinking that the Act was successfully marketed to voters, stating that "the law has never cracked a 51% favorability rating" and that, in the first elections after the ACA passed, Republicans, who had opposed it, retook the House of Representatives and gained control of 11 additional state governorships.[49] Journalist Jake Tapper stated that Gruber's description of the Cadillac tax as designed to eventually encompass regular health-care plans directly contradicted a promise that Obama had made before the bill was passed.[43]

Congressional hearing[edit]

In the wake of the controversy, Jonathan Gruber was called to testify before members of Congress. He gave testimony on December 9, 2014, in which he apologized for his remarks, which he called "glib, thoughtless, and sometimes downright insulting."[50] The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial, called Gruber's apology unpersuasive, saying that "his response to substantive questions suggested that he is mainly sorry for getting caught on tape."[51]

In both his written and oral testimony,[52] Gruber downplayed his influence on the Massachusetts and national health care plans, stating: "I did not draft Governor Romney’s health care plan, and I was not the “architect” of President Obama’s health care plan." The newspaper The Hill called this a contradiction of various statements that Gruber had previously made.[53]

Effect on Vermont single-payer plan[edit]

On December 17, 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin cancelled the Vermont health care reform plan, which Gruber had consulted on.[54] Though budgetary concerns were cited as the reason for the cancellation, some called Gruber's involvement with the plan a factor as well.[55]

According to VPR, Vermont state auditor Doug Hoffer is auditing Gruber's contracts[56] for Vermont health care reform, which Gruber "helped Vermont design".[57]


  1. ^ "Jonathan Gruber". MIT Economics. Retrieved December 16, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Gruber, Jonathan (April 11, 2012). "Viewpoint: A thank you to Gov. Mitt Romney for signing Massachusetts' historic health care reform". 
  3. ^ a b Kliff, Sarah (October 11, 2011). "Everything you wanted to know about health reform, in one comic book". Wonkblog. The Washington Post. 
  4. ^ Gruber, John. "Changes in the structure of employer-provided health insurance". ProQuest. Retrieved January 9, 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "Gruber MIT bio". Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  6. ^ "Jonathan Gruber among 4 ousted from Massachusetts Obamacare board". Politico. 25 February 2015. 
  7. ^ a b Cannon, Michael. "ObamaCare Architect Jonathan Gruber: "If You're A State And You Don't Set Up An Exchange, That Means Your Citizens Don't Get Their Tax Credits"". Forbes. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Jon Gruber on the premiums in health-care reform". Washington Post. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  9. ^ "Jonathan Gruber Health Cares Mr Manadate". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  10. ^ "Jonathan Gruber and His Health-Care Ties to the Obama Administration - WSJ". WSJ. 14 January 2010. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  11. ^ ABC News. "On Jonathan Gruber and Disclosure". ABC News Blogs. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "How the White House Used Gruber's Work to Create Appearance of Broad Consensus". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  13. ^ Hirschfield, Peter (July 22, 2014). "Obamacare Architect To Help Vermont Design Single Payer". Vermont Public Radio. 
  14. ^ The Vermont Option: Achieving Affordable Universal Health Care. Dr. William Hsaio, Steven Kappel, Jonathan Gruber, and a team of health policy analysts, June 21, 2010.
  15. ^ Governor abandons single-payer health care plan,, December 17, 2014
  16. ^ "NBER Working Papers by Jonathan Gruber". National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved 21 Nov 2014. 
  17. ^ "Worth Publishers Student Center for Public Finance and Policy". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  18. ^ a b Gruber J, Levine P and Staiger D, Abortion legalization and child living circumstances: who is the "marginal child"? Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1999, 114(1):263-291.
  19. ^ Mullainathan, Sendhil; Gruber, Jonathan (April 2002). "Do cigarette taxes make smokers happier?". NBER Working Paper (National Bureau of Economic Research) 8872. 
  20. ^ "The Cost and Coverage Impact of The President’s Health Insurance Budget Proposals". Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 15 Feb 2006. Retrieved 21 Nov 2014. 
  21. ^ Gruber, Jonathan (December 4, 2008). "Medicine for the Job Market". New York Times. 
  22. ^ "Taxing Sin to Modify Behavior and Raise Revenue". April 2010. Retrieved 7 February 2015. 
  23. ^ Gruber, Jonathan (February 9, 2011). "Health Care Reform Without the Individual Mandate". American Progress. Retrieved 21 Nov 2014. 
  24. ^ "Honors & awards – Fall 2006 Soundings". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  25. ^ "National Academy of Social Insurance". Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  26. ^ James, Michael (January 9, 2010). "On Jonathan Gruber and Disclosure". ABC News. Retrieved November 15, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Jonathan Gruber Failed to Disclose His $297,600 Contract With HHS". Huffington Post. May 25, 2011. Retrieved November 15, 2013. 
  28. ^ Berger, Judson (January 8, 2010). "Economist Was Under Contract With HHS While Touting Health Reform Bill". Fox News. Retrieved November 15, 2013. 
  29. ^ "Obama confidant’s spine-chilling proposal". Salon Media Group. January 15, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  30. ^ "Jonathan Gruber". New York Times. January 11, 2010. Retrieved September 3, 2014. 
  31. ^ "JKrugman, Gruber and non-disclosure issues". Salon Media Group. January 16, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2015. 
  32. ^ a b Cohn, Jonathan (July 25, 2014). "Jonathan Gruber: 'It Was Just a Mistake'". The New Republic. 
  33. ^ Oops!...Gruber Did It Again, Forbes, July 25, 2014
  34. ^ Skocpol, Theda (December 9, 2014). "'Grubergate' shows the sad state of debate on Obamacare". Los Angeles Times. 
  35. ^ "GRUBER: "Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage."". American Commitment. October 13, 2013. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  36. ^ Kathleen Parker (November 12, 2014). "Obama and the 'Stupidity of the American Voter". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved November 12, 2014. 
  37. ^ Roy, Avik (November 10, 2014). "ACA Architect: 'The Stupidity Of The American Voter' Led Us To Hide Obamacare's True Costs From The Public". Forbes. 
  38. ^ "Obamacare consultant under fire for ‘stupidity of the American voter’ comment". Washington Post. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  39. ^ "ObamaCare Architect Jonathan Gruber Admits Deceiving Americans to Pass Law". Fox Nation. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  40. ^ "Obamacare Architect : We Passed Law Due To Stupidity". The Washington Times. Retrieved 13 November 2014. 
  41. ^ Ross, Chuck (November 12, 2014). "In Third Video, Obamacare Architect Talks About ‘Basic Exploitation’ Of American Voters [VIDEO]". The Daily Caller. 
  42. ^ Tapper, Jake (November 13, 2014). "Obamacare architect discussed misleading public in 4th newly uncovered video". 
  43. ^ a b Tapper, Jake (November 19, 2014). "Obama promised Obamacare wouldn't do exactly what Gruber says it will do". 
  44. ^ Scarry, Eddie (November 11, 2014). "Jonathan Gruber to MSNBC: My ‘Stupidity of the American Voter’ Remark was Inappropriate". Mediaite. 
  45. ^ Cohn, Jonathan (November 17, 2014). "What Jon Gruber's Quotes Really Tell Us About Obamacare—and American Politics". The New Republic. 
  46. ^ Beutler, Brian (November 12, 2014). "The Obamacare Debate Was One of the Most Transparent in Recent Memory". The New Republic. 
  47. ^ Lowry, Rich (November 14, 2014). "Thank You, Jonathan Gruber". National Review. 
  48. ^ Krauthammer, Charles (November 13, 2014). "The Gruber Confession". National Review. 
  49. ^ Cupp, S.E. (November 15, 2014). "The guy who thinks voters are 'stupid'". 
  50. ^ Bierman, Noah (December 9, 2014). "MIT professor apologizes for health care law remarks". Boston Globe. 
  51. ^ "Forrest Gump, Ph.D.". The Wall Street Journal. December 10, 2014. 
  52. ^ "Written Testimony of Professor Jonathan Gruber before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, U.S. House of Representatives, December 9, 2014". United States Congress. December 9, 2014. 
  53. ^ Byrnes, Jesse (December 10, 2014). "Gruber on ObamaCare: 'I helped write it'". The Hill. 
  54. ^ Wheaton, Sarah (December 17, 2014). "Vermont bails on single-payer health care". Politico. 
  55. ^ Weigel, David (December 18, 2014). "How Math, Lawsuits, and Jonathan Gruber Killed Vermont's Single-Payer Health Care Dream". Bloomberg. 
  56. ^ Gram, Dave (January 24, 2015). "Auditor: Invoices unsupported from "expert"". Burlington Free Press. 
  57. ^ Hirschfeld, Peter (January 22, 2015). "State's Contract With Economist Jonathan Gruber Under Scrutiny". VPR. 

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