MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont is applying a fresh round of scrutiny to its contract with Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology health economist who made headlines for talking about "the stupidity of the American voter."
State Auditor Doug Hoffer has been reviewing the contract under which Gruber got paid $500 an hour, plus $100 an hour for his assistants. Hoffer said Friday that 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 he said the contract called for detailed documentation and that Gruber didn't deliver it.
"We know what was done; it's not like the work wasn't done," Hoffer said. "But the invoices ... provided no detail at all. That's more my focus."
Gruber made national headlines in November when videos surfaced of comments he made about passage of the federal Affordable Care Act. 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 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.
During the height of controversy over Gruber's comments, Democrats at the federal and state level scrambled to distance themselves from him. Shumlin called 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 the change would reduce the cost of the contract from more than $400,000 to $280,000, of which $160,000 has been paid.
Robin Lunge, a top Shumlin health care aide who worked closely with Gruber, told Vermont Public Radio, "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."
Lunge said Friday that the scope of Gruber's work could be seen in thousands of documents the administration released Dec. 30 in connection with its decision not to push forward with universal health care.
"You don't have to take my word for it," she said.
Information from: WVPS-FM, http://www.vpr.net