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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

Just as Obamacare’s individual market seemed to be stabilizing, the Trump administration announced it was slashing funding even further for groups that help low-income people enroll. The annual budget for the ACA’s navigators was about $63 million when President Trump took office. He cut that roughly in half, and just announced a new round of even more severe cuts, bringing the funding down 70 percent, to just $10 million. Those funds have to be spread across the 34 states that use the federal ACA marketplace.

Perhaps more troublingly, the navigators will now be pushed to promote the cheaper, skimpier insurance options recently created by the Trump administration that do not comply with ACA’s protections and regulations, including Association Health Plans and short-term insurance. Such plans are allowed to refuse to cover certain basic medications and services and can charge people more based on their gender, age or health status.

Citing budget cuts, Trump’s HHS is also moving this week to take down Guideline.gov, a database of medical guidelines and research that has been widely used for more than two decades. The announcement stunned the medical community for whom the site was “perhaps the most important repository of evidence-based research available.”

Speaking of HHS’ budget, a new Inspector General report found that former Secretary Tom Price took 20 trips that violated the agency’s rules for spending — out of 21 total trips during his short tenure. The report called the trips “extravagant, careless, or needless” and urged HHS to attempt to get Price to reimburse the government for at least $341,000 in wasted spending.

Meanwhile, the state battles over Medicaid continue to rage, as the Trump administration stays quiet on whether or not it will appeal a federal court ruling against Kentucky’s work requirement program that could impact similar rules in other states.

In Arkansas, as TPM predicted, thousands of low-income residents are now at risk of losing their health coverage after the state implemented the nation’s first-ever Medicaid work requirements. In a state with the second-worst rate of home internet access in the country, the state’s rules now require Medicaid beneficiaries to submit proof online that they had worked at least 80 hours per month. In the first phase of implementation, just for residents ages 30-49 who don’t have an exemption, more than 7,000 residents failed to meet the deadline. If they are unable to meet the requirement for two more months, they will lose coverage for the rest of the year. But the GOP-controlled state government does not appear concerned. The spokesperson for Arkansas’ Human Services Department told local reporters that when it comes to people who depend on Medicaid, “at some point they do have to take some action to keep their coverage.”

But in Ohio, the Republican candidate for Gov. Mike DeWine revealed this week that he does plan to keep the state’s Medicaid expansion fully in place if elected — after dancing around the issue for months with TPM and other news outlets. DeWine does, however, favor work requirements and other restrictions on coverage.

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For weeks, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw has praised the Trump administration’s uneven progress on reuniting the thousands of immigrant families it had forcibly separated – and has held off on holding the administration in contempt even when it blew the reunification deadline for dozens of children younger than 5 years old.

But at a status hearing in San Diego on Monday in the American Civil Liberties Union’s class action lawsuit on the reunifications, Sabraw had had enough.

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In response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, the Trump administration released a survey of FBI employees’ morale taken after the controversial ouster of former Director James Comey. The data from the annual survey has been released to the public each year since 2013, but the administration decided to keep the 2018 information under wraps until Ben Wittes and Scott Anderson of the Brookings Institution and Lawfare sued for its release.

On Friday, Wittes and Anderson received the report, which showed a sharp drop in rank-and-file FBI workers’ morale and confidence in their leadership, though satisfaction at the bureau remains high overall.

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The Trump administration is refusing to reunite nearly a dozen immigrant families with children younger than 5 based on the criminal record of the parent — even when the record in question involves a non-violent crime or even the lack of a conviction.

Attorneys challenging the separations and former DHS officials tell TPM that only a criminal record that indicates an imminent danger to the child should justify the continued separation, saying that records that would not have triggered removing the child from the parent in the first place in the past should not be used now to keep the family apart.

Attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, who won a national injunction against the Trump administration forcing them to reunite all of the roughly 3,000 families separated under the “zero tolerance” policy, also tell TPM that the administration has not yet given them concrete proof of the criminal records they are citing to deny reunification — making it impossible for them to investigate and contest their authenticity and severity.

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This post has been updated with new information from the plaintiffs’ attorney.

A Central American asylum seeker whose three children were forcibly taken from her in mid-May said this week that she suspects the Trump administration retaliated against her for traveling to the U.S. with the “caravan” of migrants that was the center of a political firestorm earlier this year.

The woman, identified in court documents by her initials M.G.U. to protect her identity, is part of a group of three Central American asylum-seekers held in ICE detention in Texas who are suing for the return of their children. M.G.U.’s attorney Peter McGraw told TPM following the initial publication of this report that she was reunited with her three sons, ages 2, 6, and 13, in New York on July 11. He has not yet been informed if the family will be released or detained together.

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The Trump administration told a federal judge on July 6 that it would reunite about half of the children under five years old that it forcibly separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

But the Trump administration told the same judge on Tuesday afternoon — the deadline for reunification — that it is on track to return only a third. Out of 102 young children identified, the government reunited just four prior to the court-imposed deadline of July 10, though DOJ lawyers said the administration expected to be able to return another 34 children by the end of the day.

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In a filing in federal court on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the Trump administration of unnecessarily delaying the reunification of immigrant children and parents — arguing that the government’s practice of DNA testing every family violates their privacy and civil liberties, slows down the reunifications, and is not required either by law or by current circumstances.

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In the wake of a federal judge slapping down the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back decades-old protections for children in immigration detention, the Trump administration is threatening to present migrant parents with a choice between indefinite detention with their children or continued separation — leaving out the third option used by previous administrations of supervised release.

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Just as more insurers and consumers were entering the ACA individual market and things seemed to be stabilizing, the Trump administration struck a new blow against the health-care sector over the weekend, cutting off the multi-billion dollar risk adjustment payments that compensate insurers for taking on sicker and more expensive patients.

The move is yet another attempt to knock out one of the legs of Obamacare — creating a scenario where insurance companies have to accept all patients regardless of their health status, but will not be financially supported in doing so. Insurers are already saying the decision will force them to set their premiums even higher in 2019 to make up for this uncertainty, which is likely to price more people out of the market.

The Trump administration claims it is obligated to suspend these payments because of a court ruling out of New Mexico questioning their legality, but there is reason to be skeptical. Health law experts are pointing out that the Trump administration has not suspended other policies that have been challenged in court, including the defunding of open enrollment outreach and the implementation of Medicaid work requirements.

Speaking of which, Kentucky is responding to a federal court ruling knocking down its Medicaid work requirements waiver by stripping all adults on its Medicaid expansion of their dental and vision coverage. Thanks to an alleged glitch in the state’s electronic records, the move is also hitting children, pregnant women, and adults with disabilities, who were supposed to be protected from the cuts but who now are appearing as ineligible for Medicaid in the system.

The groups that successfully sued Kentucky and the Trump administration are now challenging these cuts. In a letter to CMS, the National Health Law Program, the Kentucky Equal Justice Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center accuse the state of slashing the benefits without going through the proper procedure, which would include a public comment period. The result, the groups say, is “great confusion and harm.”

More lawsuits are expected in three other states that received a green light from the Trump administration to implement Medicaid work requirements. All eyes are on Arkansas, the first state to implement the new rules, where thousands of low-income residents are now at risk of losing their insurance. Under the state’s rules, residents can only qualify for Medicaid by submitting proof online that they are working at least 80 hours per month — even though the state has the second-worst rate of internet access in the country. The results were predictable:

Despite these battles, advocates of expanding Medicaid are on the march in red and purple states. This past week, residents of both Idaho and Nebraska gathered enough signatures to put expansions on the ballot this November.

The popularity of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and the predicted political backlash to the Trump administration’s sabotage is one of the reasons Democrats are feeling confident about November’s midterms. For the first time since Obamacare was created, Democrats are set to spend more on ads about the ACA than their GOP counterparts.

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Lawyers for the Trump administration appeared once again in a courtroom in San Diego to ask a federal judge to push back his deadline for the reunification of children under five years old who were taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. And once again, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw held off on giving them an extension, and  demanded instead that they return to court on Tuesday to explain how many families were reunited, why the government failed to reunite the rest by the deadline, and how much more time it will need for those cases.

“I am encouraged by the progress,” Judge Sabraw said. “I’m optimistic that many of these families will be reunited by tomorrow.”

Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabien said that while only two children out of the 102 the government has identified have been reunited so far, she believes another 54 can be returned to their parents by Tuesday’s deadline. As for the rest, she claimed, three were brought to the U.S. by someone who is not their biological parent, three have parents with serious criminal records that bar reunification, five have parents with something on their record that requires further investigation, 12 have parents either in local or federal criminal detention who must serve time before being transferred to ICE, 18 have parents who were lost by the administration after their deportation or release into the U.S., and four have been approved for release to a non-parent sponsor.

As for the last of the 102, Fabian said, “We’re still trying to track down what information we have about that parent. To my knowledge we do not have any information.”

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