Gov. Baker forces resignation of 4 health connector board members, want to put in his own team

Government And Institutions Associated Press

Gov. Charlie Baker sought and received the resignations of four member of the state's health connector board, including MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, who came under fire for saying it was "the stupidity of the American voter" that led to the passage of President Barack Obama's 2010 heath care law.

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The move helps Baker consolidate his authority over the agency responsible for helping Massachusetts residents find affordable health care plans.

Gruber became a political lightening rod following his comments and was chastised by opponents of the law. He was called to testify before Congress in December, when he told lawmakers he was "inexcusably arrogant" when he made the statement.

Besides Gruber, Baker also asked for the resignations of board members George Gonser, John Bertko and Rick Jakious — all appointees of former Gov. Deval Patrick.

The move gives Baker control of the 11-member board that oversees the state's health care law and website. Two other administration appointees — Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders and Secretary of Administration and Finance Kristen Lepore — are already on the board.

"As with all incoming administrations, I am establishing a new leadership team," Baker said in a letter, adding that he wants that team "to implement ideas to improve the operation of that important state entity."

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An email sent to Gruber on Wednesday seeking comment on his resignation was not immediately returned.

Gruber, who consulted with the Obama administration on the health care overhaul, apologized repeatedly after videos circulated of him saying voter stupidity and a "lack of transparency" were key to passing the hard-fought federal law.

During his four-hour grilling before Congress, Gruber said his earlier comments were uninformed, "glib, thoughtless and sometimes downright insulting." He said he was showing off before various groups and "trying to be something I'm not, which was a political expert."

During his campaign for governor last year, Baker — a Republican who formerly headed Harvard Pilgrim Health Care — criticized the operation of the state's Health Care Connector and the failed rollout of a website in 2013 meant to merge the state's existing health care law with the federal law.

At the time, Baker said the state should seek a comprehensive waiver from the federal law, arguing that the state already had a functioning health care law.

The state launched a revamped website last year.

Gruber's comments on the federal 2010 health care law aren't the only troubles he's run into recently.

Republican leaders in the Vermont Legislature on Tuesday called for a federal investigation of that state's spending on its health overhaul, on which Gruber also consulted, following an audit saying he may have padded his bills to the state.

Gruber has declined comment on the audit.