After a video surfaced of a chief Obamacare architect taking a hit at the legality of Obamacare subsidies in federal exchanges, the expert in question is claiming he just made another “typo.”
“I honestly don’t remember why I said that,” MIT economist Jonathan Gruber told The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn. “I was speaking off-the-cuff. It was just a mistake.”
Gruber, hired by the Obama administration to help create the Affordable Care Act, worked closely with Congress to actually draft the law. A video surfaced late Thursday night of Gruber stating in a 2012 presentation that the health care law intentionally did not allow premium subsidies to states with federally-run exchanges in order to pressure more states into building their own marketplaces. (RELATED: Obamacare Architect Argued Years Ago That States Without Exchanges Can’t Get Subsidies)
The question of federal subsidies has been the subject of two conflicting federal court decisions this week, making it all the more likely the Supreme Court will end up hearing the case. The case centers around Obamacare’s repeated statement that premium subsidies are eligible to exchanges “established by the state.” (RELATED: Federal Court Takes Down Obamacare: Subsidies In Federal Exchange Are Illegal)
“The federal government has been sort of slow in putting out its backstop [exchange], I think partly because they want to sort of squeeze the states to do it,” Gruber told an audience at Noblis, a nonprofit technology organization, in 2012. “I think 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 Gruber — who has vocally supported the Obama administration in the several lawsuits pending against federal exchange subsidies — is now saying that like Congress did in writing the statute, he just misspoke.
“People make mistakes. Congress made a mistake drafting the law and I made a mistake talking about it,” Gruber told Cohn. “My subsequent statement was just a speak-o — you know, like a typo.”
Gruber noted as proof that his economic models of the Affordable Care Act have assumed that subsidies are applied to all states.
“At this time, there was also substantial uncertainty about whether the federal backstop would be ready on time for 2014,” Gruber explained. “I might have been thinking that if the federal backstop wasn’t ready by 2014, and states hadn’t set up their own exchange, there was a risk that citizens couldn’t get the tax credits right away.”
Since strong court cases emerged against the way the Obama administration is doling out taxpayer subsidies for premiums, Gruber (and countless other Obamacare supporters) has argued that the statement in question is just a “drafting error.”
The economist’s older comments suggest not only that the phrase in question — repeated nine times throughout the text of the Affordable Care Act — could restrict subsidies to state-run exchanges, but also may assign an intent to use the restriction to convince states to step up and build an exchange.