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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said President Trump’s removal of FBI Director James Comey “raises massive questions,” given the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential campaign.

“While the White House is under investigation by the FBI, firing the head of the FBI raises massive questions, and the Senate should get to the bottom of it,” Whitehouse said in a statement. “America needs to have confidence that the Department of Justice will fill its traditional role of following the facts fearlessly, and prosecuting whomever has violated the law no matter the office they hold.”

 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) issued a response to the announcement that President Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey with a statement that said “Comey’s decisions on controversial matters have prompted concern from across the political spectrum and from career law enforcement experts.”

“The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey’s decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI,” Grassley said. “In my efforts to get answers, the FBI, under Comey’s leadership, has been slow or failed to provide information that Comey himself pledged to provide.”

Read the full statement below:

“Over the course of the last several months, Director Comey’s decisions on controversial matters have prompted concern from across the political spectrum and from career law enforcement experts.

“The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey’s decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI. In my efforts to get answers, the FBI, under Comey’s leadership, has been slow or failed to provide information that Comey himself pledged to provide.

“The effectiveness of the FBI depends upon the public trust and confidence. Unfortunately, this has clearly been lost.

“The FBI Director serves at the pleasure of the president. Under these circumstances, President Trump accepted the recommendation of the Justice Department that the Director lacked the confidence needed to carry out his important duties.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a brief response to the announcement that President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey Tuesday.

“President Trump called me at 5:30 p.m. and indicated he would be removing Director Comey, saying the FBI needed a change,” Feinstein said. “The next FBI director must be strong and independent and will receive a fair hearing in the Judiciary Committee.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, issued a statement Tuesday responding to President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.

“I know this was a difficult decision for all concerned. I appreciate Director Comey’s service to our nation in a variety of roles,” Graham said. “Given the recent controversies surrounding the director, I believe a fresh start will serve the FBI and the nation well. I encourage the President to select the most qualified professional available who will serve our nation’s interests.”

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee announced Tuesday that it would enter a region in Tennessee where it was feared consumers on the Affordable Care Act exchanges would have no insurers to choose from. The company warned, however, that if the Trump administration halted crucial Obamacare subsidies to insurers, as President Trump has threatened, or otherwise took actions to destabilize the individual market, BCBS Tennessee would reverse its decision.

“Given the potential negative effects of federal legislative and/or regulatory changes, we believe it will be necessary to price-in those downside risks, even at the prospect of higher-than-average margin for the short term, or until stability can be achieved,” said a letter from J.D. Hickey, the chief executive at BCBS Tennessee, to Tennessee Insurance Commissioner Julia Mix McPeak.

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Having successfully pushed an Obamacare repeal bill through his own conference, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) is hoping that it takes the Senate only “a month or two” to pass its own legislation dismantling the Affordable Care Act, Ryan told “Fox & Friends” Tuesday.

“The legislation should not take that long. Hopefully it takes a month or two to get it through the Senate,” Ryan said. “Hopefully it takes a month or two. Because we need to give people the ability to plan. The insurers are pulling out very, very quickly. And we need to show the insurers there’s a better system coming. Stay in the market.”

Ryan was only able to get House GOP approval of his own health care legislation, the American Health Care Act, over a series of a fits and starts through the Spring, including an aborted vote in March. It passed narrowly last week after a provision was added to make some of the ACA’s insurer mandates optional for states. The House bill also imposes harsh cuts to Medicaid, repeals many of the ACA taxes and reworks its tax credit scheme for individual insurance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has kept expectations low for quick action in the upper chamber, where Senate Republicans will be writing a new bill from scratch.

“This process will not be quick or simple or easy, but it must be done,” McConnell said in a floor speech Monday.

GOP governors, hospitals, insurers and patient groups begged Republicans not to pass a bill that would gut Medicaid. House Republicans voted last week to do so anyway.

The last round of negotiations that secured the GOP’s Obamacare repeal its narrow passage in the House focused on its protections—or lack thereof—for people with pre-existing conditions. But at the the heart of the bill is its nearly trillion dollar cut in federal funding to Medicaid, a program that has long been in the crosshairs of Republicans. The provisions in the legislation, the American Health Care Act, to phase out the Medicaid expansion and to overhaul the traditional Medicaid program stand to remake the American health care system in a way that will put states in a financial pinch and leave the country’s most vulnerable exposed to a lapse in care.

As an aborted vote for the bill in March was initially being whipped, some Republicans—particularly those from purple or blue Medicaid expansion states—raised concerns about the massive cuts to Medicaid. Most ultimately fell in line and supported a revamped version of the legislation last week, despite the fact that nothing was done to address the Medicaid-related concerns. The proposed cuts come as President Trump himself vowed time and time again on the campaign trail that he wouldn’t touch Medicaid.

His promise would be violated by House GOP bill, as it seeks to freeze Medicaid expansion money for states in 2020 by withhold funding at the enhanced match rate for any new enrollees after that point. Other beneficiaries are at risk with the more long-term transformation that program stands to undergo under the GOP bill. The legislation would overhaul the program—now an unlimited federal match rate—into a per capita cap system, meaning that states would get a fixed amount of funding per enrollee. The Congressional Budget Office, analyzing an initial version of the legislation, predicted out of the 24 million Americans who would lose coverage under the earlier GOP bill compared to current law, 14 million were due to its changes to Medicaid.

Medicaid has a broad reach, beyond offering health insurance for low-income people, that includes support for anti-drug addiction programs and funding for special needs schools. Medicaid covers the care of three-in-five nursing home residents, and one-fifth of Medicare beneficiaries receive support from Medicaid as well. Nearly 70 million people benefit from the program, including 33 million children, according to a 2015 Kaiser Family Foundation report.

Not surprisingly then, a constellation of patient advocacy groups have come out against the GOP bill, pointing specifically to the Medicaid cuts. The American Cancer Society worried about “fewer cancer patients accessing needed health care.” The AARP said the shift to a per capita cap “could endanger the health, safety, and care of millions of individuals.” The American Heart Association slammed Republicans last week for passing a bill that did not address issues the group had with the original legislation “including the shifting of Medicaid costs to states.”

Republicans argue that cutting federal Medicaid funding will force states to become more innovative and efficient in the implementation of their programs. But that ignores the fact that many states already operate very efficient programs, and overall per-enrollee spending for Medicaid is growing at a considerably slower rate than that of private insurance.

Governors, including some Republicans, thus warned that the House GOP bill “does not ensure the resources necessary to ensure no one is left out,” as a letter from four Republican governors put it in March.

Health experts have cautioned that by placing a cap on federal funding—a cap that will place more of the burden on states as time goes on—states will be forced to cut costs by shrinking the benefits offered enrollees, imposing cost-sharing requirements, or squeezing providers on the payment side. Ironically, as some Republicans complain that the current Medicaid program doesn’t offer enough choice, the cuts in their bill will push it further in that direction: towards a system with stingier plans and narrower networks.

Hospitals would see a spike in uncompensated care, and thus, they too have come out aggressively against the cuts, including in a letter from seven different hospital organizations that said they were “deeply concerned” about the bill’s overhaul of Medicaid

Even private insurers have harped about the cuts. America’s Health Insurance Plans, America’s largest trade group, argued in a March letter to House GOP leaders that “Medicaid funding should be adequate to meet the healthcare needs of beneficiaries,” while noting that “the individual market and Medicaid are closely related.”

Amidst all these warnings, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price (pictured above) claimed this weekend that it was “absolutely not” the case the millions of Americans health care coverage was at risk due to the estimated $880 billion in cuts.

Nonetheless, it appeared at first that at least some House Republicans, particularly those from expansion states, were hearing those concerns.

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) said at a townhall in March that his governor, Chris Christie, given him “ pretty dire predictions about what happens,” with the freezing of Medicaid expansion enrollment under the GOP bill.

Late last month, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), a no vote on the initial bill, said, “The elephant in the room for me, really, is the Medicaid portion.”

MacArthur ultimately crafted an amendment, which zeroed in on the Affordable Care Act’s insurer mandates, that bridged the gap between hardline conservatives and moderates who had been resisting the bill. Amodei reversed his position on the GOP bill just hours before it was brought for a floor vote last week in a statement that said he had “concluded that the potential for Nevada deficits or expanded Medicaid enrollees being kicked off of Medicaid will be avoided.”

The only thing that has changed about the bill’s Medicaid provisions since the legislation was initially unveiled is an amendment, pushed by the conservative hardliners, to allow states to impose work requirements on certain enrollees. It will now be up to the GOP Senate to decide whether it will hold on to the House’s gutting of the program.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) previewed in a floor speech Monday what is expected to be a slog of negotiations over a Senate Obamacare repeal bill, now that House Republicans have passed their own repeal legislation.

“This process will not be quick or simple or easy, but it must be done,” McConnell said.

A little over a month ago, McConnell seemed less than eager to take on Republicans’ longstanding promise to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, telling reporters after an earlier version of the House vote failed to move forward that “I’m sorry that didn’t work” and that Obamacare was “the status quo” going forward.

House Republicans were able to revive their bill by dragging it farther to the right with an amendment that made some of the ACA’s insurer mandates optional for the state. Almost immediately after the House bill passed by a razor-thin margin, Senate Republican leaders signaled that they would be writing a new health care repeal bill, which, if passed in the upper chamber, will be reconciled with the House legislation, the American Health Care Act.

The House legislation imposes major cuts onto Medicaid while phasing out the expansion of the program under the Affordable Care Act. Some Republicans in the Senate have raised concerns over the House bill’s Medicaid provisions, as well as with how it restructures the ACA’s tax credits and defunds Planned Parenthood.

 

As House Republicans return home this week to explain their support of an Obamacare repeal bill that, according to the CBO, could cost 24 million Americans their health care coverage, they’ll at least be getting a boost in the form of a national ad campaign praising their votes in favor of the legislation, the American Health Care Act.

The American Action Network, a political non-profit aligned with House Speaker Ryan (R-WI), has reserved $500,000 of airtime for a TV commercial to air nationally and in Ryan’s district, McClatchy reported.  House members are currently back in their districts for a one-week recess as Senate Republicans get to work on their own Obamacare repeal plan.

The ad touts the House legislation as a “bold plan” to “cut the deficit” and to “provide $1 trillion of job creating tax relief.” It also claims the bill “puts patients and doctors back in charge of health care,” while “eliminating Washington’s expensive mandates” and “empowering states to reduce health care costs.”

The bill, which the House GOP passed narrowly this week, imposes $880 billion in cuts to Medicaid, reworks the Affordable Care Act’s tax credits for individual insurance, makes some of ACA’s insurance reforms optional for states and eliminates many of its taxes.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said he would “consider” waiving some of the Affordable Care Act’s insurer mandates, including its protections for people with pre-existing conditions, as would be an option for states if a GOP Obamacare repeal bill that passed the House this week became law.

“That’s something we would certainly consider. It depends on the conditions, and again, what’s in the House bill could be very different than what’s in the Senate bill and what finally comes to the president,” Walker told reporters Friday, according to the Journal Sentinel. “So I’m going to wait till I see what’s in the final version.”

His spokesman later elaborated on Walker’s comments in a statement to the Journal Sentinel.

“Ensuring coverage for those with pre-existing conditions is a given for Governor Scott Walker,” Walker spokesman Jack Jablonski said in the statement. “Under his leadership, Wisconsin has been a model by having no insurance gap and providing coverage for all people in poverty. Wisconsin will continue to lead by ensuring those that seek coverage have access, while helping everyday citizens afford health care without putting taxpayers on the hook for Obamacare.”

The House bill would allow states to opt out of some of Obamacare’s market reforms, such as its Essential Health Benefits and the community ratings standards that prohibit insurers from hiking up premiums based on health status. The latter waiver would essentially allow insurers to price sick people out of being able to afford insurance, even as the ACA’s ban on insurers denying coverage for those with pre-existing conditions would technically remain on the books, under the GOP plan.

House conservatives picked up signals that waivers would be fairly easy for states to obtain and indeed, the legislative text laying out the conditions for the waivers is very vague.

The GOP centrists—whose support ultimately got the bill, the American Health Care Act, enough votes to pass the House narrowly Thursday—meanwhile argued that very few, if any, states would seek the waivers.

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