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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

A federal court struck a major blow on Friday against the Trump administration’s crusade for Medicaid work requirements — a pillar of the government’s health care agenda. D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg’s scathing ruling raked the Trump administration over the coals for approving Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver without considering the massive coverage losses the new rules would trigger in the state — 95,000 fewer people insured by the state’s own estimate.

Already, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) is making good on his threat to punish Medicaid recipients in his state if he lost in court. Over the weekend, the state notified about 460,000 adults enrolled in the Medicaid expansion that their dental and vision care would be cut off. People who were enrolled in Medicaid before the state expanded will not be impacted. Bevin has additionally threatened to end the state’s Medicaid expansion entirely, but only after all appeals are exhausted in the battle over the work requirements waiver.

And though the Trump administration has already hinted that it will appeal Friday’s ruling, the sweeping court victory for the challengers has boosted similar legal efforts already in the works in other states where the administration has approved work requirements, including Indiana and Arkansas.

Meanwhile, the face-off over Maine’s Medicaid expansion drags on, with Gov. Paul LePage (R) issuing yet another veto of a bill to expand Medicaid — his sixth since taking office! Lawmakers could try to override the veto when they reconvene on July 9. The state’s Medicaid expansion that voters overwhelmingly approved last November to cover an additional 70,000 low-income people was scheduled to go into effect on Monday, but LePage is fighting it on multiple fronts. Now, he is appealing a state court ruling that said he must move forward with the implementation, and the Maine Supreme Judicial Court will hear that appeal on July 18. The health care advocates suing LePage are telling eligible Mainers to go ahead and apply for Medicaid now, because if they eventually prevail in court, those people will receive retro-active benefits.

More and more signs are emerging that Obamacare’s individual market is surprisingly resilient in the face of a year-plus onslaught of damaging policy changes from the Trump administration. More insurers are entering the market, enrollment has largely held steady and has even increased among some demographics.

But more threats to the markets are on the horizon. The individual mandate officially dies in 2019, and insurers are already citing its demise as the key factor in their decision to make double-digit rate hikes, which are likely to price many people out of the market entirely. Additionally, the Trump administration is planning to slash funding even further for navigator groups who have helped millions of people enroll in the individual market over the past few years. In 2017, the administration cut navigator funding nearly in half, even as a shortened enrollment period and other changes made their work more vital than ever. Now, officials are considering cutting the groups’ remaining budget by nearly two-thirds, to just $10 million nationwide.

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A federal judge in Washington ruled Monday that the Trump administration is violating its own policy by uniformly denying parole to asylum-seekers who have passed their “credible fear” interviews — a key step in the asylum process.

In the decision, the court sided with the immigrants who brought the class action and ordered the Trump administration to restore the practice of granting fair, individual parole hearings to asylum-seekers who have passed that initial threshold. Prevailing at the parole hearing means that an asylum-seeker is released from detention and allowed to remain in the country pending a decision on their asylum petition, a process that can take several years.

“To mandate that ICE provide these baseline procedures to those entering our country–individuals who have often fled violence and persecution to seek safety on our shores–is no great judicial leap,” U.S. District Judge James Boasberg observed dryly.

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The Trump administration’s approval of Kentucky’s strict Medicaid work requirement, set to go into effect July 1, was vacated on Friday by a federal judge in Washington D.C. and sent back to the Department of Health and Human Services for reconsideration.

In a sweeping ruling striking down the entirety of Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg sided with the dozen-plus low-income Kentuckians who had challenged the new rules, and said that the Trump administration acted in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner by approving them.

“The Secretary never adequately considered whether Kentucky HEALTH would in fact help the state furnish medical assistance to its citizens, a central objective of Medicaid,” Boasberg wrote, later adding that HHS “entirely failed to consider Kentucky’s estimate that 95,000 persons would leave its Medicaid rolls during the 5-year project.”

The HHS Secretary’s failure to acknowledge the likely coverage losses the rules would trigger, the judge wrote, “gives the Court little reason to think that he seriously grappled with the bottom-line impact on healthcare.”

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A group of legal and immigrant rights advocates filed a new class action suit on Friday against the Trump administration, challenging an array of policies related to the treatment of unaccompanied minor immigrants.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Los Angeles, seeks to end the administration’s policy of indefinitely detaining immigrant children, subjecting the children to forced medication without their parents’ consent, denying them of access to attorneys, and the denying or delay their release to family members or vetted sponsors.

While many lawsuits have been filed challenging the Trump administration’s recent treatment of immigrant families, this new class action is the first to focus solely on the rights of the minor children who either came to the U.S. unaccompanied or were separated from their relatives upon arrival. In seeking class action status for the lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that “hundreds” of “predominantly indigent, non-English-speaking children…are being denied basic fairness” in the immigration system.

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As federal courts across the United States wrestle with the constitutionality of President Trump’s mass-separation of immigrant parents and children, some immigrant advocacy groups are turning to international legal bodies to force the Trump administration to disclose its plans for reuniting the families, carry them out as soon as possible, and cease from separating any more families going forward.

Several legal and civil rights groups have filed an Emergency Request for Precautionary Measures at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights — part of the Organization of American States (OAS) — on behalf of a group of immigrant parents whose children were taken from them. On June 22, the commission demanded the U.S. government disclose the location and physical and emotional status of the parents and the children, updates on the reunification process, and the justification for separating the children from their parents in the first place.

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“There may be some litigation,” President Trump said off-the-cuff as he signed an executive order purporting to suspend his administration’s policy of taking migrant children away from their parents.

It was an understatement.

In the subsequent chaos, with Congress increasingly unable to pass legislation to address the situation, an army of lawyers mobilized, filing cases aimed at permanently ending the Trump administration’s family separation policy and reuniting the thousands of parents and children still held in separate detention facilities in different states.

Late Tuesday night, the first of these cases struck home. A federal judge in San Diego blocked any future family separations and ordered the government to reunite all separated families within 30 days, adding that children under five years old who have been torn from their parents must be returned within 14 days, and all parents must be put in phone contact with their children within 10 days.

The decision is likely just the opening salvo in a long legal battle that will be waged in federal courts across the country. Here are the cases most likely to force the administration’s hand.

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The current family separation crisis — in addition to being a legal and human rights disaster — is a health care story.

This week, the Department of Health and Human Services is launching an emergency task force to work on reuniting the thousands of families the government forcibly separated — taking steps the agency usually reserves for responding to natural disasters or disease outbreaks. But without a plan in place for the reunifications, attorneys say the process could take months and some parents may never see their children again.

While some lawmakers have advocated for the use of DNA testing to help match up the separated families, and the companies MyHeritage and 23andMe have offered free kits to do so, many worry that the mass-collection of immigrants’ DNA poses a serious privacy violation.

Lawsuits by migrant parents challenging the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy have also cited the health effects of separating and incarcerating children and infants, which experts says is likely to cause long-term developmental challenges and trauma.

The fear the Trump administration has instilled in immigrant communities is also having a spillover effect for U.S. citizen children. NPR reports that many undocumented parents are withdrawing their citizen children from Medicaid and other government health programs they are legally entitled to use out of fear their enrollment will be used against them. The fear is well grounded, as the Trump administration is reportedly weighing changes to the green card system so that the use of government social programs like Medicaid counts against a parent applying for permanent residency, even if the child using the benefits is a U.S. citizen.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, the governor has finally signed Medicaid work requirements into law, months after the state attempted to pass a version that would have had a disparate impact on urban residents of color while exempting many rural white Michiganders. But the final rules, which now await approval from the Trump administration, are in several ways even more punitive. More than half a million people in Michigan will be subject to the new requirements, and as many as 54,000 people could lose their coverage as a result.

As we await a federal court decision on Kentucky’s Medicaid work requirements, which is expected within the next week, the state is once again threatening to roll back hundreds of thousands of people’s health coverage if the judge rules against it. Adding to the threats Kentucky made in oral arguments to kill the state’s Medicaid expansion entirely, the secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services recently said the state would move “probably right away” to eliminate dental, vision and pharmacy benefits for low-income enrollees.

And as the 2018 midterms ramp up, health care — and Obamacare specifically — has emerged as a key campaign issue. A majority of Democratic voters rank it as their top issue, and the party is hoping to mobilize them by touting its policy positions. Businessweek reports that 2018 Congressional candidates have already run 9,600 television spots supporting the Affordable Care Act and 17,000 mentioning Medicare.

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