Current Events Public Policy

Discussing a richer health economist than me: Jon Gruber’s $300,000 payoff

Megan McArdle broke a story that Jon Gruber, a famous MIT health economist, was paid $300,000 by the Obama Administration for “special studies and analysis” of the health care bills.  Did this sway his opinion on the evaluation on endorsing various legislative bills?

I would say no.  Dr. Gruber is a well respected health economist who has long supported health reform efforts.  He was one the principal advisers for the design of the Massachusetts’ health reform.  What I’m trying to say, is that Dr. Gruber likely already had a bias towards health reform and the $300,000 likely did not affect the analysis he would have done if he had not been paid.

I would hope that money would not affect Dr. Gruber’s econometric research whatsoever.  What it could influence is his decision to endorse specific bills.  Any bill has pros and cons which hopefully Dr. Gruber would uncover unbiasedly in his evaluation.  Taken as a whole, however, the money may have helped convince Dr. Gruber to give a more positive tone to the overall bill in interview.

The fact that Dr. Gruber was paid to do research should not appall anyone; a researcher has to earn a living somehow.   McArdle’s discovery should not be any sort of a scandal, but it should make the public realize that no academic researchers is ever perfectly unbiased.


  1. McArdle didn’t break the story. Bloggers at firedoglake did.

    Gruber’s work for the West Wing and his work for HHS are not in any way tit-for-tat. One is very unlikely to influence the other, except to improve the technical details (more funding should mean more graduate student time on the project). Rather, as you suggest, a third set of factors explains both: he’s a national expert in microsimulation modeling of health reform issues.

    For more see my blog or Krugman’s:

  2. I agree there’s no probable cause to question the quality of Gruber’s analysis. However the lack of disclosure seems a bit disingenuous. Transparency enhances credibility, and vice versa.

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