Obamacare guru Gruber had 'questionable' billing: Audit

This year isn't shaping up to be any better for Jonathan Gruber than 2014 was.

An audit of work done for the state of Vermont by the controversial Obamacare architect found that he may have overbilled for the job.

The audit is the latest in a series of black eyes for Gruber, who in a video that came to light last year was seen talking about how the "stupidity of the American public" allowed Obamacare to be passed into law.

The Vermont audit, which cites Gruber's "inconsistencies and questionable billing practices," also faults state officials for failing to exercise sufficient oversight over the MIT economist's invoices. The audit has been referred to Vermont's Democratic attorney general, William Sorrell, who reportedly said it raises "serious questions."

Jonathan Gruber
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Jonathan Gruber

Gruber's billing came in connection with a $400,000 contract for research and modeling work related to Vermont's since-abandoned plan to implement a single-payer health-care system for state residents.

State Auditor Douglas Hoffer's inquiry found that Gruber's first invoice for hours worked reported "round numbers"—100 hours for him, and 500 hours for his research assistants—which Hoffer noted is "possible, but unlikely."

Hoffer also pointed out that the "plain language" of Gruber's contract did not allow him to bill in round numbers.

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"The second invoice reported exactly the same figures, which is implausible," Hoffer wrote. The auditor further noted that Gruber used only one research assistant during the period billed for, and "it seems unlikely that the RA could have worked 1,000 hours in 10 weeks," which was the total in the two invoices.

And, Hoffer said, a December invoice submitted by Gruber includes hours he worked, "which is expressly forbidden by" the contract as it was amended in November.

"The evidence suggests that Dr. Gruber overstated the hours worked by the RA and that the Agency of the Administration ignored the obvious signs that something was amiss," Hoffer wrote.

Gruber declined to comment on the audit when contacted by CNBC.com

Gruber's careless remarks
Gruber's careless remarks   

Gruber for years has been well-known in health-policy circles, and acted as a consultant for the Obama administration during the creation of the Affordable Care Act. But he was essentially unknown to the public.

That changed last year when a video emerged showing him speaking at an event in which he suggested that the way Obamacare worked—having healthy enrollees effectively subsidize sick enrollees—was intentionally obscured to make the law politically acceptable.

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"This bill was written in a tortured way," Gruber said on the video. "If you had a law which said healthy people are going to pay in—you made explicit that healthy people pay in and sick people get money—it would not have passed. OK? 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, really critical to get the thing to pass. Look, I wish ... we could make it all transparent, but I'd rather have this law than not."

Other videos show Gruber making a statement that contradicted the administration's position that subsidies can be issued to customers of the federal Obamacare exchange HealthCare.gov. On another video, he described how the "Cadillac tax" on pricey employer-provided health plans—which are currently a minority of all plans—would eventually apply to almost all of those kinds of health plans.

The videos embarrassed the Obama administration as it ramped up efforts for the second season of Obamacare enrollment.

Gruber apologized for his remarks about the "stupidity" of the American public and said he was incorrect when he had claimed HealthCare.gov customers could not receive financial assistance to help pay their insurance plan premiums.