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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

On Monday morning, President Donald Trump unveiled his pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, which has been leaderless since Secretary Tom Price resigned in late September over his use of private jets on the taxpayer’s dime.

The nominee is Alex Azar, a former executive at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co., who worked at HHS under President George W. Bush.

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President Trump has repeatedly declared the Affordable Care Act “dead” and his administration has done nearly everything possible to make it so. Yet the first enrollment numbers released Thursday by the Department of Human Services show the program very much alive.

According to HHS, more than 600,000 people signed up for a health care plan in the first four days of open enrollment, beginning on Nov. 1. Last year, under an administration pulling out all the stops to promote enrollment, just over 415,000 signed up in the first five days. Importantly, nearly a quarter of this year’s signups are from new enrollees who did not previously have a health care plan on Obamacare’s individual market.

For experts who predicted signups would crater this year thanks to the Trump administration gutting the budget for outreach and enrollment assistance, the rosy early numbers are a surprise, but they cautioned that anything could happen by the Dec. 15 deadline.

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Democrats dominated elections across the country Tuesday night, and health care was a major issue on the ballot both explicitly and implicitly.

Voters in Maine overwhelmingly backed a measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to more than 80,000 state residents, voters in Virginia’s blue wave named health care as their top issue, and pro-Obamacare candidates won on the state and local level from New Jersey to Georgia.

But on Capitol Hill, most Republican lawmakers told TPM they don’t plan to change course on health care, and will continue working to repeal the Medicaid expansion and the entirety of the ACA. Despite polls showing that more Americans approve of Obamacare than at any time since its implementation, and the vast majority disapprove of Republican bills to repeal it, GOP members said the message they got from Tuesday’s elections was that their failure to deliver “results” is what is hurting Republicans, not their repeated attempts to gut the ACA.

Democrats, meanwhile, say the GOP’s health care agenda is guaranteeing its own electoral doom in 2018.

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Maine voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to become the first state in the nation to expand Medicaid by ballot initiative, approving the measure by a nearly 20-point margin. But Republican Gov. Paul LePage, a vehement opponent of Medicaid who has vetoed expansion bills five times since the Affordable Care Act became law, is threatening once again to block more than 80,000 low-income Mainers from gaining access to government health insurance.

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On Tuesday, Maine became the first state in the nation to expand Medicaid through a ballot initiative. Just after 10 p.m., the Associated Press called the race in favor of the measure expanding government health insurance to more than 80,000 low-income residents. Maine now joins the 31 states and the District of Columbia in the Medicaid expansion camp.

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Republicans in Congress and President Trump are actively exploring a new target in their ongoing campaign against the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate.

For weeks, Trump has been pushing GOP legislators to include a provision repealing the mandate in their already-unwieldy tax reform package, and while the policy is not yet in the text of the bill, Republicans in the House and Senate are fighting to insert it. Should that fail, the Trump administration reportedly has an executive order in the works to dismantle as much of the mandate as possible—though he wouldn’t be able to completely eliminate it with a stroke of his pen.

Regardless of whether mandate is undermined by legislative or executive action, doing so would further roil the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace, which has already been kneecapped by a host of budget and policy changes this year. It would sow more chaos in an open enrollment period already hampered by misinformation public confusion.

Here are five points to keep in mind as the mandate becomes the next piece of Obamacare to come under fire:

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Since President Trump took office in January, health care experts and advocates have sounded the alarm that his budget cuts and policy changes would severely reduce health insurance enrollment—predicting a dip of more than 1 million people compared to last year.

But so far, according to reports by The Hill and the Washington Post not officially confirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the opposite is happening.

More than 200,000 people signed up for a plan when Obamacare’s open enrollment period began on Nov. 1, twice as many as enrolled on day one last year.

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On Tuesday morning, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled new criteria for evaluating pitches from states to tweak their Medicaid programs, a significant departure from the Obama administration’s approach to such requests.

Whereas in the past states had to prove that proposed changes would “increase and strengthen” health coverage of their low-income population, that requirement is gone, replaced with language that welcomes proposals for work requirements, drug tests and other hurdles that experts predict would reduce the Medicaid rolls by hundreds of thousands of people.

In a statement distributed to reporters Tuesday morning, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma called the goal of covering more people a “hollow victory of numbers,” and instead called for changes that “reduce federal regulatory burdens, increase efficiency, and promote transparency and accountability.”

The announcement also promises to fast-track approval of states’ proposed Medicaid changes (which HHS grants in the form of waivers from existing Medicaid requirements) and to scrap some of the requirements that states report back to the federal government whether the changes improve health outcomes for recipients.

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Late update, 8:09 p.m. ET: The respected bipartisan Tax Policy Center took the unusual step late Monday of retracting its initial analysis of the House Republican tax bill after finding an error in its modeling.

“This error involved the additional child tax credit component of the proposed legislation,” TPC said on its blog. “TPC staff are in the process of revising the analysis and will release a corrected version as soon as possible.”

Original story, headlined “Study: Under GOP Tax Bill, Millions Pay More While Top 1% Gets Major Breaks”

An analysis of House Republicans’ tax bill released Monday by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found a wide disparity between the winners and losers under the plan—with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans netting nearly 50 percent of all the benefits and nearly 30 percent of Americans seeing an increase in their tax bill after 10 years.

Thanks to the loss of several popular tax deductions, including state and local taxes, medical expenses, student loan interest and others, the report estimates that 12 percent of taxpayers would pay higher taxes starting in 2018 and at least 28 percent of taxpayers would pay more by 2027.

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