On Tuesday, March 20, 2018, the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy and the Texas A&M Economics Department hosted a Conversation in Public Policy featuring Dr. Jonathan Gruber, the Ford Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and noted health economist. Dr. Gruber, who served as a technical consultant to the Obama Administration on the Affordable Care Act, shared his expertise in his talk entitled The Affordable Care Act: Will It Survive and What Comes Next?
The event began with welcoming remarks from Dr. Lori Taylor, Director of the Mosbacher Institute, and an introduction of Dr. Gruber by Dr. Jason Lindo, Associate Professor of Economics at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Gruber began his talk with a description of the origins of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the Republican healthcare plan he helped design and implement in Massachusetts during Mitt Romney’s governorship. The Romneycare plan, he said, was based on a three-legged stool of (1) requiring health insurance companies to stop discriminating on the basis of preexisting health conditions, (2) distributing the insurance pool risk across more healthy people with the individual mandate requirement, and (3) helping people who could not afford insurance with subsidies. He noted that while the first part was very popular, all three legs were critical to the reform.
Keeping the crowd engaged with humorous remarks and anecdotes, Dr. Gruber argued that the ACA fairly successfully accomplished its goals of increasing insurance coverage among Americans and fixing a broken healthcare market, but that the evidence on whether it has lowered healthcare costs remains inconclusive. Dr. Gruber also predicted that, with the repeal of the individual mandate, insurance companies would have to increase premiums. For the future, Dr. Gruber predicted that policy goals would revolve around controlling costs, with the means of doing so depending on the political party in control.
In the second half of the program, Assistant Professor Laura Dague of the Bush School of Government and Public Service engaged Dr. Gruber in an on-stage discussion, asking questions submitted by the audience along with her own. Dr. Dague, the Bush School’s own expert in health policy, pressed Dr. Gruber on a variety of topics, beginning with how healthcare markets differ economically from other markets. The two economists also discussed the possibility of the uninsured rate increasing due to recent policy changes to the penalty for not buying insurance. Additionally, the conversation touched on why the health insurance reimbursement system in the United States may cause technology to increase costs instead of decrease, as it does in other markets, and how public policies could begin to tackle the difficult task of modifying unhealthy individual behaviors.
Before closing the program, Dr. Taylor presented Dr. Gruber with a plaque commemorating his visit to Texas A&M University and invited everyone to a reception in the lobby.