Health Care Guru: ‘Front-Runner’ Obama Won’t Match Clinton on Specifics

Barack Obama should be more explicit about how he wants people to pay for health insurance under his plan—but don’t hold your breath for more details.

That’s the opinion of Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped to develop the health care plans of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Gruber said that after Clinton’s proposal to cap health insurance premiums at 5 percent to 10 percent of income, the onus has moved to Obama to detail how much he thinks Americans should pay for health insurance.

"I think it helps if they both have real numbers," said Gruber. "I think having one person having a number doesn’t help that much, because then you can’t really compare."

When asked if the onus was now on Obama to detail how Americans would pay for insurance, Gruber said "Yeah I think so." But when asked if he thought the Obama campaign would actually provide that number, he was doubtful. "No," he said. "They’re the front-runners. Front-runners don’t produce numbers."

The Clinton campaign has used the offering of a hard number to reinforce its favorite argument that it is serious and Obama is just a bunch of empty talk. One number that the Obama campaign has offered in response to Clinton’s proposal is the $2,500 the typical American family is expected to save under his plan.

Gruber seemed to agree with the Clinton campaign that this was an arbitrary figure that did not reflect any sort of consensus among activists and experts in the health care field.

"It’s an internally cooked-up number," he said, adding that it is "a number that is highly uncertain. Is it possible? Yes. But I think it is really just speculative."

He said the amount a family was expected to save and how much it was expected to spend on health care were really two different issues.

"The $2,500 is how much Obama said he will lower health spending. He hasn’t said what he will make people pay for health insurance," said Gruber. "That’s a different issue. Because if someone is low income, $2,500 is more than just 5 or 10 percent of their income. He hasn’t really waded into this."

Speaking of Clinton’s naming of a number, he said, "This is the first time a candidate has ever really given a serious number on that. She has said income caps before, but this is the first time she has given a sense of the numbers she is talking about." Health Care Guru: ‘Front-Runner’ Obama Won’t Match Clinton on Specifics