Left Wing Activists Say Lack of Transparency in Vermont Contract With Jonathan Gruber ‘Inappropriate’

Matt McGrath, an official with the left wing, pro-single-payer Vermont Workers’ Center, and Traven Leyshon, the long-time communications and community engagement coordinator with the Vermont State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, say the lack of transparency in the state of Vermont’s contract with controversial MIT economist Jonathan Gruber is “inappropriate.”

McGrath was among 29 protesters arrested on January 8 when they disrupted Governor Peter Shumlin’s state of the state address in the chambers of the Vermont State Legislature. The goal was to protest Shumlin’s decision to abandon — for this year — a single-payer health care plan. Now McGrath wants the state of Vermont to make the proprietary Gruber Microsimulation Model available to his group so it can run economic models on the financing of single-payer.

On Friday, Breitbart News asked McGrath if, in his opinion, Gruber’s billing practices were also “inappropriate.” We also asked whether the lack of transparency he cited in Gruber’s contract with the state of Vermont warranted the initiation of investigations by the Vermont Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney in Vermont into all the non-transparent elements of the contract, including Gruber’s billing practices.

McGrath did not respond.

McGrath echoed the comments of Traven Leyshon, communications and community engagement coordinator for the Vermont State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO, one of the unions associated with the Vermont Workers’ Center. On the Vermont Workers’ Center website, Leyshon is simply described as a resident of Middlesex, Vermont.

In testimony before a Joint Health Committee Hearing of the Vermont House and State Senate held in Montpelier on Thursday, Leyshon said:

In consulting with data modelers and experts outside Vermont,we have come to conclude that it was highly inappropriate that the state’s contract with [economic modeler] Jonathan Gruber did not include delivery of the actual model and model interface that was used to calculate the Governor’s financing scenarios…We believe that the administration, legislators and the GMC Board should be given full access to this tool paid for by Vermont taxpayers, as should the general public.

In 2013, writing at Occupy.com, which describes itself as “a new kind of media channel that amplifies the voices of the 99%,” Leyshon said:

All the major advances in organizing Vermont unions in recent years have been accomplished in collaboration with allies, particularly the Vermont Workers Center. We need this kind of community engagement if we are to build a massive movement that fights for all working people.

In that article, Leyshon identified himself as “secretary-treasurer of the Vermont State Labor Council, AFL-CIO.”

Breitbart News also requested comment from the Vermont State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO on Leyshon’s comments but did not receive a response.

In July, Gruber signed a $450,000 contract with the state of Vermont to provide economic modeling services to Governor Shumlin that would assist him in developing a report on how the single-payer health care plan in Vermont would be financed. As one of the elements of that contract, Gruber used his proprietary Gruber Microsimulation Model to conduct that economic modeling.

In November, after Gruber’s controversial comments about the “stupidity of American voters” became public, Gruber and the state of Vermont agreed to modify the original contract, reducing its amount from $450,000 to $280,000.

At the time, Gruber had been paid $160,000 against that contract, and agreed that going forward he would not be personally compensated any further for his work, but that he would be authorized to receive an additional $120,000 in payments from the state for work Gruber claimed his research assistants would perform under his supervision during the duration of the contract.

The revised contract apparently had no enforcement mechanism to ensure those future payments made by the state of Vermont to Gruber went to Gruber’s unnamed research assistants. The state apparently relied on Gruber’s word and the honor system.

Breitbart News has asked Robin Lunge, Vermont’s director of health care reform who supervises the Gruber contract, whether or not he has billed the state for the additional $120,000 in research assistant work agreed to in the modified contract. Lunge has not responded to that question, nor has she responded to a subsequent question regarding the state’s payment of any additional funds to Gruber beyond the $160,000 he was paid prior to the November contract modification.

On December 17, Governor Shumlin announced that he was abandoning plans to introduce a single-payer health care system to Vermont in 2015.

Seven weeks ago Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer asked Gruber to provide details to support $80,000 in invoices he submitted as part of that contract, which the state of Vermont has already paid.

In those invoices, Gruber claimed unnamed research assistants worked 800 hours (billed at $100 per hour) during the months of July, August, and September under his supervision on the contract. Hoffer asked Gruber to provide a minimal level documentation to support those invoices—the names, contact information, and employment status of the unnamed research assistants.

Last week, Hoffer called Gruber’s failure to respond to that information request “unsatisfactory.”

On Monday, Darcie Johnston, head  of Vermonters for Health Care Freedom, told Breitbart News Gruber may face a “phantom billing” problem:

Jonathan Gruber has failed to provide any evidence that the $80,000 he’s been paid by the state of Vermont for 800 hours of work he claimed was performed by unidentified research assistants was actually performed, or that these research assistants even exist and were paid,” Johnston told Breitbart News.

There’s a term in health care for the practice of billing for services not provided. It’s called ‘phantom billing,’ and when doctors or health care providers do this, they face criminal charges.

2015 is shaping up to be a long year for the embattled Gruber, who now faces a growing number of investigations into his contracts with several states and the federal government.


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