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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

Amid a Monday-morning screed on Twitter about various grievances, President Donald Trump asserted that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act is “getting done.”

The “less expensive plans” Trump is touting are two forms of cheap, skimpy, health insurance his administration is currently putting together: short-term and Association Health Plans. The plans, which were extremely limited under President Obama, are expected to lure millions of people out of the individual market, driving up premiums for those who remain. Depending on how the Trump admin writes the final rules, insurers who sell the short-term and Association Health Plans could have the right to charge people more or reject them entirely based on their age, gender, and health status.

But many states, it seems, have not gotten the memo about Obamacare’s demise, and are moving full speed ahead with policies to shore up and expand the benefits of the ACA.

This week, in the culmination of a five-year political battle, Virginia’s governor is expected to sign a bill expanding Medicaid coverage under Obamacare to between 300,000 and 400,000 low-income, uninsured residents. Virginia’s House and Senate passed the bill late last week, something made possible by last November’s “blue wave” election that flipped 15 House seats. But in order to win crucial Republican votes to get the bill over the finish line, Democrats had to agree to tack on a work requirement — something advocates say will limit the number of people who can benefit from the expansion and may possibly be ruled illegal later this month.

As of this week, supporters of Medicaid expansion in Utah have gathered enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot for this November. A competing plan in the Republican-dominated state legislature would only partially expand Medicaid — to cover people only up to 100 percent of the federal poverty line, instead of the 138 percent required by Affordable Care Act expansions. Trump’s HHS would have to sign off on a partial expansion; whether it will is unknown.

And in Maine, a judge has ordered Medicaid foe Gov. Paul LePage (R) to cease his months-long effort to block the Medicaid expansion that voters approved in November from taking effect. The court slammed LePage for his “complete failure to act” and told him to submit the necessary paperwork to the federal government by June 11. LePage can, and likely will, appeal the ruling, dragging out the state’s Medicaid saga even longer.

Meanwhile, New Jersey became the second state in the nation to enact its own individual mandate — joining Massachusetts, whose mandate pre-dated the ACA. New Jersey will charge a penalty to those who don’t buy insurance and don’t qualify for a hardship exemption, and they will use the tens of millions of dollars they expect to collect to fund a reinsurance program expected to lower residents’ premiums. Vermont has also passed a bill to create an individual mandate, but it won’t go into effect until 2020. 

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This week, Arkansas becomes the first state in the nation, and in the nation’s history, to require its non-disabled adult Medicaid expansion population to work or volunteer 80 hours a month to maintain their health care benefits.

Starting Tuesday, Arkansans on Medicaid have to prove that they’ve worked 80 hours over the previous month or that they qualify for an exemption. If they fail to do so, they’ll be booted from the rolls after three months. Health care advocates in the state say they expect thousands of low-income people to lose coverage — both those who can’t find work and those who can’t navigate the state’s online-only system for documenting their hours. Health groups are also sounding the alarm about the paltry funding Arkansas has reserved for implementing the program — a tiny fraction of what other states are spending to put Medicaid work requirements in place.

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The Trump administration unveiled a new “scorecard” this week that will rank how states’ Medicaid populations are faring on everything from vaccinations to blood pressure to mental health care. Though the data currently available is several years old, the scorecard has the potential in the future to shine a light on the true impact of measures like Medicaid work requirements, which health advocates and researchers predict will slash insurance coverage without improving people’s health or incomes.

In other words, the Trump administration’s new push for transparency could, if done in good faith, reveal the negative effects of the dramatic policy changes to Medicaid that the administration is promoting.

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After years of political battles and weeks of procedural delays, the Virginia House and Senate voted Wednesday to expand Medicaid to cover between 300,000 and 400,000 more low-income residents.

Four Republicans joined every Senate Democrat in voting for the expansion Wednesday afternoon. Later Wednesday evening, the House followed suite, passing a multi-year budget including the expansion by an overwhelming majority. Last-minute lobbying against expansion by Trump administration officials, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and the Koch brothers’ group Americans for Prosperity was not successful.

When the bill is signed into law, as expected later this week, Virginia will join 33 states and the District of Columbia in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act — though Maine is currently fighting the expansion’s implementation.

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Less than 24 hours after Roseanne Barr lost her eponymous show on ABC over a racist tweet about a former Obama administration official, the comedienne tweeted — then deleted — that she wrote the post under the influence of the popular prescription sleeping pill Ambien.

“It was 2 in the morning and I was Ambien tweeting-it was memorial day too-i went 2 far & do not want it defended-it was egregious Indefensible,” she said.

On Wednesday morning, the company that produces the sleep aid drug took to social media to affirm that their product does not, in fact, cause one to write racist posts.

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A state court in Maine has ruled that Gov. Paul LePage (R) must submit the paperwork necessary to move forward on expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover about 70,000 more low-income people in the state.

In her ruling, state judge Michaela Murphy slammed LePage’s health department for unilaterally blocking the expansion’s implementation since voters overwhelmingly approved it by ballot initiative last November.

“The Court concludes that the Commissioner’s complete failure to act cannot be considered substantial compliance,” she wrote, ordering the governor to submit the necessary paperwork to the federal government by June 11.

It wasn’t immediately known whether LePage planned to appeal the decision.

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As Republicans and Democrats in Washington prepare to point fingers at one another for the nation’s health-care woes in the lead-up to this November’s midterm elections, new data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the Trump administration’s attempts to chip away at the Affordable Care Act have led to a marked increase in the uninsured rate among… Republicans. Overall, the national uninsured rate barely changed over the course of 2017.

Meanwhile, battles over Medicaid continue to rage in states across the country.

A judge in Maine heard oral arguments last week in a lawsuit against Gov. Paul LePage (R) for unilaterally blocking the expansion of Medicaid that voters overwhelmingly approved last November. LePage, a staunch opponent of Medicaid, blew past the mandated April deadline to move forward with the implementation of the expansion, which is set to extend coverage to 70,000 low-income people in the state.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy says she will issue a ruling as soon as possible, since expansion-eligible residents are supposed to be able to enroll by this July. During the hearing, according to local press, she scolded the state’s lawyers, saying: “The law is in effect. It’s not a suggestion. The executive branch has a duty to enforce that.”

The states seeking waivers from Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services to make drastic changes to their Medicaid programs are also running headlong into political and legal problems.

On Thursday, four Ohio Democrats wrote to Gov. John Kasich (R) pleading with him to withdraw his request for a waiver to put Medicaid work requirements in place. The state lawmakers charged that the work requirements would have a racially discriminatory impact, would create an administrative burden and would waste taxpayer dollars. Kasich’s proposal would force the 700,000 enrollees in the state’s Medicaid expansion to work 80 hours per month or lose their health care. But like the plan Michigan recently backed away from, Ohio’s proposal would exempt more than two dozen rural, high-unemployment, overwhelmingly white counties from the work requirements, but would not exempt high-unemployment black population centers like Cleveland because their affluent suburbs make the overall county unemployment rate too low to qualify.

“By pushing through a waiver that will have a detrimental impact to majority African American populations, this policy will exacerbate already existing economic and health disadvantages,” the lawmakers, led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), wrote to Kasich.

South Dakota, a state that never expanded Medicaid but still wants to jump on the work requirements bandwagon, is stepping into dicey legal territory as well. Their plan involves imposing the work requirement only on its two most populous counties, which happen to hold the vast majority of the state’s (very small) black population and nearly half its Latino population. The state also plans to force its Native American population to comply with the requirements, which tribes, legal experts, and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle say is an unconstitutional violation of their tribal sovereignty.

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