Governor Charlie Baker has removed the four members of the Massachusetts Health Connector Board appointed by his predecessor, including controversial MIT economist Jonathan Gruber.
Gruber said the decision was unrelated to the controversy that erupted last year on his comments about “the stupidity of the American voter.”
“All that was communicated to me is that the governor would like to have his own set of people on the Connector,” Gruber said. “It’s not about me or any of the individuals.”
Baker spokesman Timothy Buckley confirmed that the governor asked all gubernatorial appointees to step down and was not targeting any individual. Baker has already replaced the agency’s executive director, appointing Louis Gutierrez, an information technology specialist, to take the post held for two years by Jean Yang.
In addition to the four members appointed by the governor, the 11-member board includes three appointed by the attorney general and four who hold seats by virtue of their positions in state government.
The Connector Board oversees the agency that serves those without health insurance through an employer, enabling them to shop for insurance and get state and federal subsidies. The Connector is the cornerstone of the Massachusetts law that expanded health coverage to 97 percent of the population, a law that Gruber helped craft and that became the model for the federal Affordable Care Act.
Gruber said he had served on the board for nine years and understood Baker’s desire to appoint his own team. “It’s been an incredible experience,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be appointed by [governor Mitt] Romney and kept on by [governor Deval] Patrick. It’s been a great run.”
Gruber was the center of a firestorm late last year after comments he made about “the stupidity of the American voter” and the advantages of “a lack of transparency” surfaced on a conservative website. He had made the remarks at an academic conference a year earlier. He apologized during a four-hour grilling by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in December.
Controversy reignited around Gruber when Vermont’s state auditor questioned billing for work he did on the state’s proposed, and since abandoned, single-payer health care system. The Burlington Free Press reported Tuesday that the auditor found Gruber’s invoices to be lacking in detail and claiming questionable numbers of work hours.
The other Massachusetts Connector board members asked to resign include John M. Bertko, chief actuary for California’s insurance marketplace; George W. Gonser Jr., chief executive of Spring Insurance Group; and Rick Jakious, chief executive of the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network, an advocacy group.
Buckley was unsure when their replacements would be named. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for March 12.
Under the 2006 law that created the Connector, the governor appoints an actuary, a health economist, a representative of small business, and an underwriter. The attorney general appoints an employee health benefits specialist, a representative of health consumers, and a representative of organized labor.
Additionally, certain state officials, or their designated representative, serve on the board: the secretary for administration and finance, the Medicaid director, the insurance commissioner, and the executive director of the Group Insurance Commission (which handles state employees’ health insurance).
Baker is making other moves to reshape the board. He appointed Marylou Sudders, secretary of health and human services, to serve as the board chairman and the designee of the secretary of administration and finance. And the secretary of administration and finance, Kristen Lepore, is serving as the Medicaid director’s designee.
• Jonathan Gruber apologizes to Congress for remarks
• Connector board members show support for Gruber
• Joan Vennochi: Gruber’s remarks create new problems for ACA
• Editorial: Jonathan Gruber is a good economist but bad with PR
• Vennochi: Benjamin Edelman, Jonathan Gruber show dangers of arrogance
Felice J. Freyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.