Vermont's deal with health expert Jonathan Gruber under scrutiny

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MONTPELIER (AP) >> Vermont is applying a fresh round of scrutiny to its contract with Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology health economist who got into hot water for talking about what he called "the stupidity of the American voter."

Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer has been reviewing the contract under which Gruber got paid $500 an hour and his assistants got $100 per hour. Hoffer said Friday Gruber provided insufficient documentation to support his invoices to the state.

Hoffer said officials in Gov. Peter Shumlin's administration had been in close touch with Gruber throughout his work, but that the contract called for detailed documentation of the work, and Gruber didn't deliver that.

"We know what was done; it's not like the work wasn't done. But the invoices ... provided no detail at all. That's more my focus," said Hoffer, who is in his second two-year term and who runs under both the Progressive Party and Democratic labels.

The comments came about two months after Gruber made national headlines when videos of comments he made about passage of the federal Affordable Care Act received a burst of publicity. A key adviser to the Obama administration on the design of the law, he said better public understanding of the complex law might have blocked its passage.

"Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage and, basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever. But basically that was really critical to getting the thing to pass," Gruber said in one video.

Gruber also provided economic modeling to support Shumlin's push for a universal, state-backed health care system, often labeled single-payer. Shumlin announced last month he was shelving that plan, calling it too costly for Vermont's economy to absorb.

During the height of controversy over Gruber's comments in November, Democrats at the federal and state level scrambled to distance themselves from him, with Shumlin calling his comments "reprehensible, repugnant and sad."

State officials announced that Gruber would finish his work for the state for free, while his assistants would continue to get paid, and said that would reduce the cost of the contract from more than $400,000 to $260,000, of which $160,000 has been paid.

Robin Lunge, a top Shumlin health care aide who worked closely with Gruber, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday.

She told Vermont Public Radio, which reported on Hoffer's inquiry on Thursday, "I feel confident that we've gotten our money's worth in terms of both the amount of work, as well as the quality of the work that we received."


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