Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Closer Look at the Gruber Report
We covered this before in our September 1, 2011 HealthWatch Wisconsin Update, but the Walker Administration keeps singing the same tune:
When Governor Walker submitted his op-ed "Obamacare is an unhealthy prescription" to the Washington Post, he heavily "edited"  Dr. Jonathan Gruber’s report on the impact of health reform on Wisconsin. Dr. Gruber, a professor of Economics at MIT contracted to work with Gorman Actuarial, drafted a non-partisan, actuarial-based analysis to help Wisconsin understand the implications of the Affordable Care Act on Wisconsin, especially the development of exchanges. Citizen Action of WI responded to Governor Walker’s article in a press release, saying that the Governor mis-represented the report’s findings.

We have been here before! Just about a year ago, on August 24, 2011, there was a showdown at the Department of Health Services. In an invitation-only press conference, Wisconsin's Department of Health Services Secretary Dennis Smith and Commissioner of Insurance Ted Nickel announced that the Office of Free Market Health Care was releasing the results of a health reform study. Clear from lengthy powerpoint presentation that accompanied the press conference, were the instances where the Department of Health Services inserted their own "footnotes" and numbers into Dr. Gruber's report, referring to internal "DHS estimates" instead of Dr. Gruber's actual data. Reporters tried to hold Dennis Smith accountable, asking specific questions about instances where the powerpoint presentation contradicted itself, or where the number of individuals enrolled in Medicaid, for example, appeared mis-stated.

What Dennis Smith said a year ago:
  • It [the health reform law] will "drastically shrink" the numbers of people in the private insurance market;
  • It will cause "significant disruption" to employer-sponsored insurance; and
  • It will force "working families" to pay a "hidden tax" that will "subsidize" the purchase of health insurance for families earning up to $89,000, a "forced redistribution of wealth."
In fact, the conclusions Dennis Smith drew from the report were so different from what the drafters intended, that Dr. Gruber himself went on the record as saying, "Dennis Smith has long been clear in his opposition to health reform and I think that is reflected in the way he chose to present the results....Let's just say we went back and forth on the wording of the report and that they asked us to emphasize the negative far more than I would have chosen."

But that wasn’t enough to correct the record. On September 2, 2011, Dr. Gruber then submitted his own opinion piece that concluded, “The bottom line is that health care reform in the state of Wisconsin will dramatically reduce the number of uninsured in the state, while creating both winners and losers among the existing non-group insurance holders. The losers are those young and healthy individuals who benefited from discriminatory pricing in a lightly regulated insurance market. An important question for states like Wisconsin, who have such lightly regulated insurance markets, is how to help smooth the transition to this new regime for those young and healthy individuals. Reports such as the one I co-authored for the state of Wisconsin should be used to help states make those hard decisions - and not as a source of selective fact selection in support of one's political views.”

Not much has changed in a year, except that the “Office of Free Market Health Care” in Wisconsin has closed for business. Or, as Dennis Smith put it, “The best way to expand health insurance coverage is to get the economy moving again and Americans back to work."

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