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

The Trump administration released guidelines Thursday morning for states seeking to impose work requirements on their Medicaid population—a move expected to reduce Medicaid enrollment by hundreds of thousands of people.

Under the new policy, states can require able-bodied adults to either work, volunteer, attend job training or prove they’re actively searching for a job to qualify for Medicaid. People with a disability, the elderly, children and pregnant women are exempt.

Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning that 10 states have already applied: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Some of these states had previously sought permission from the Obama administration to purge non-working adults from their Medicaid rolls, and were denied.

Though very few people are likely to be impacted, congressional Democrats and health care advocates say the work requirement violates the original purpose of Medicaid and traps people in a Catch 22—too sick to work, but unable to get care unless they are working.

Here are five things to know as the state waiver approvals start rolling out:

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It has now been more than 100 days since the Republican-controlled Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to lapse, and despite several infusions of stopgap funding from both Capitol Hill and the Department of Health and Human Services, states could run out of money as early as next week. By March, according to a new report from Georgetown University, nearly half of all states will exhaust all of their federal funding. The program covers nearly 9 million children and pregnant women across the country.

While members of Congress on both sides of the aisle insist that CHIP must be reauthorized, GOP leaders have yet to even schedule a vote, and the program has been stuck in limbo for months amid disagreements about how to pay for it.

A new email from the Congressional Budget Office to lawmakers obtained by TPM notes, however, that renewing the program could actually save the federal government money.

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In a sprawling hour-long discussion with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump took a range of positions on negotiations over the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—swinging wildly from demanding billions in funding for a border wall and other immigration restrictions in exchange for renewing DACA to endorsing Democrats proposal for a “clean” renewal and, later, a complete overhaul of the immigration system.

“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat,” Trump told the stunned lawmakers. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform.”

But the President’s tendency to change positions as frequently as he orders Diet Cokes is once again causing a major headache for lawmakers as they attempt to craft policies without a clear idea of what the White House is willing to support. With no agreement yet on whether a DACA deal will be a part of the Jan. 19 spending bill, what the exact status for the 800,000 impacted young immigrants would be, and what forms of “border security” Trump is demanding, the mass confusion is raising the potential for a government shutdown.

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President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar, said during his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning that he supports legislation that failed in Congress earlier this year that would have repealed much of the Affordable Care Act and converted Medicaid into a shrinking block grant.

“There are elements that are very positive, such as allowing states to run their own budgets,” Azar said, when asked by one of the failed bill’s sponsors about his views on the legislation. “Incentives can be reoriented in a very positive way for more state empowerment through Graham-Cassidy-Heller.”

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In the wake of a surprisingly robust open enrollment period, the small health insurance co-op Maine Community Health Options (MCHO) became the first insurer in the country to sue the Trump administration over millions in subsidies that the federal government cut off in October.

The text of the Affordable Care Act, MCHO argued, guarantees the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies to compensate them for having to accept patients regardless of their health status. Following the Trump administration’s move to terminate the payments, insurers still have to provide the subsidies to low-income enrollees, but they no longer get reimbursed. A December report from Maine’s Bureau of Insurance says MCHO lost $1.9 million in October alone due to the loss of the CSRs, and the company’s lawsuit says it lost out on at least $5.6 million for the remainder of 2017.

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In a hastily-thrown-together funding package passed just before Christmas, Congress agreed to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six months, backdated to September when they allowed the program covering roughly 9 million children and pregnant women to expire. That nearly $3 billion emergency stopgap was supposed to carry CHIP until the end of March, but states are reporting that they could run out of money in just a few weeks.

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When Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) first announced she would support the GOP tax bill that killed Obamacare’s individual mandate, she insisted that three separate health care measures to prop up the Affordable Care Act and protect Medicare recipients be passed before she cast her vote. She then amended her demand, saying the bills had to pass before the tax bill came back from the House-Senate conference committee. She then insisted — after voting for the tax bill — that the policies pass by the end of 2017. When it became clear that wasn’t possible in the face of staunch opposition from House conservatives, she expressed confidence they would become law in January.

Now, Collins is moving the goalposts yet again.

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A proposed rule published by the Trump administration Thursday would make it much easier for small businesses, unions, and self-employed individuals to form their own health care markets free from many of the regulations and consumer protections that govern the Affordable Care Act’s plans—shrinking and weakening Obamacare’s individual and group markets.

While the Department of Labor assured the public in a press release Thursday that the new, cheaper plans “cannot charge individuals higher premiums based on health factors or refuse to admit employees to a plan because of health factors,” health care experts and industry leaders oppose the move, warning that the plans may not cover basic health care services and have in the past defrauded their customers.

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On Wednesday morning, Congress’ first day in session in 2018, two new Democrats were sworn in to the Senate, bringing Republicans’ majority to a razor-thin 51 to 49.

Alabama’s Doug Jones, after winning an upset special election in December over Republican nominee Roy Moore, becomes the first Democrat in decades to represent his state in the upper chamber, taking the seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and temporarily held by appointee Luther Strange.

Minnesota’s former Democratic Lt. Gov. Tina Smith was also sworn in Wednesday, taking the seat vacated by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who resigned in December following multiple accusations of groping and other forms of sexual misconduct.

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Congress left D.C. for the December holidays without finding long-term solutions to any of the issues hanging over their heads—from immigration to children’s health insurance, the debt ceiling, or the government’s budget. After passing a deep (and permanent) corporate tax cut, they voted to kick the can down the road on the rest of their to-do list, setting up a serious January crunch.

Here are all of the things Congress must address in the coming weeks:

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