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

This is our second health care reporter’s sum-up, a weekly series for TPM Prime.

This weekend, at their annual party retreat, Republican lawmakers admitted openly what we’ve long suspected: With the midterm elections looming, Congress will not be able to pass a bill to repeal Obamacare in 2018.

That means that most major policy changes will happen on the state level, and the past week had no shortage of news. The Trump administration gave Indiana the green light to impose work requirements, premiums, and a 90-day lockout provision on its Medicaid population. This announcement follows a similar one in Kentucky. Indiana’s HHS waiver is expected to kick tens of thousands of people off of Medicaid.

Meanwhile, Idaho has decided to flout the Affordable Care Act. The state announced that it will allow health insurance companies to sell plans that violate the ACA’s regulations — for example, plans that exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions, or that charge sick people higher premiums. Some experts say the state’s move is “crazypants illegal,” arguing that states can’t simply ignore parts of federal laws that they don’t like. But it’s unclear whether Trump’s new HHS Secretary, Alex Azar, who is no fan of the ACA, will crack down on Idaho. If he doesn’t, it would open the door for other states to follow Idaho’s lead.

At the federal level, Congress must address a crisis hammering the nation’s Community Health Centers (CHC), which serve tens of millions of low-income Americans, many in rural areas. The program has for weeks been on the brink of running out of money. GOP lawmakers in the House have proposed including two years of funding in the next continuing resolution, which must pass by Thursday to avoid another government shutdown. In the meantime, health centers across the country are cutting their hours and staff in the face of the uncertainty.

Health care made a minor appearance in President Trump’s first State of the Union, where he inaccurately stated that Obamacare’s individual mandate is already gone. It’s not — not until 2019, at least. Americans are still required to have health insurance this year or pay a tax penalty. Trump also asserted that the individual mandate is the “core” of Obamacare — implying that, by getting rid of it, the GOP-controlled Congress had repealed the entire law. This is, at best, debatable. Killing the mandate will lead to a drop in coverage and a subsequent a bump in premiums, but the jury is out on how big of an impact this will have as long as federal subsidies for health plans remain available.

The health care section of the State of the Union was also notable for what was left out: namely, that the ACA had a gangbusters open-enrollment period despite the administration’s efforts to sabotage it. Several states that run their own exchanges saw enrollment reach record levels.

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The short-term budget Congress threw together to end the government shutdown in January will expire this week, and lawmakers have yet to solve any of the disagreements that brought them to the brink in the first place.

Negotiations over the fate of 700,000 young immigrants whose protections Trump revoked last year have stalled out—with moderates attempting to craft a narrower deal and the White House threatening to veto anything that doesn’t include provisions to slash legal immigration. And because Congress has yet to cut a deal to set new budget caps on military and domestic spending, lawmakers will have to pass yet another stop-gap continuing resolution by Feb. 8 to avoid another shutdown. Hanging over all of this is the debt ceiling, which Congress must raise earlier than expected because the GOP tax bill is already costing the government tens of billions in revenue.

With an eye on the midterm elections this fall, lawmakers are hesitant to stick their necks out for tough compromises, making agreement on all these issues an even heavier lift.

Welcome to the spring of Congress’ nightmares.

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Newly-sworn-in Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar flew to Indiana on Friday to announce that the state has been approved to impose work requirements, premiums and a 90-day lockout provision on its Medicaid population.

The green light for the state — home to Vice President Mike Pence and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma —  to impose those restrictions is the second ever allowed in Medicaid’s 50-plus year history, and follows on the heels of a similar waiver for Kentucky that is already drawing legal challenges.   

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In an address Thursday at a West Virginia resort, President Donald Trump urged House and Senate Republicans to take up and pass a controversial immigration plan “that includes a permanent solution on DACA, secures the border, ends chain migration, and cancels the visa lottery.”

“It’s a strong bill, but it’s a very fair bill,” he said, though no such bill currently exists other than a one-page “framework” released last week. Trump then suggested he would veto any alternative that comes his way. “We’ll either have something that’s fair and equitable and good and secure, or we’re going to have nothing at all.”

But in an effort to break through the current immigration stalemate paralyzing Congress, some Republicans are breaking from their embrace of President Trump’s immigration plan and suggesting a narrower path without many of the controversial cuts to legal immigration the White House has demanded.

“I think that if we can solve DACA and border security that may be the best we can hope for,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the Senate leadership team, on Thursday.

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The fallout continues after the leader of a major Latino civil rights group wrote a letter praising President Trump’s immigration plan without sign-off from the group’s staff, board of directors, or general membership.

On Thursday at 1 a.m., the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) released an official statement rejecting President Roger Rocha’s letter endorsing the four “pillars” of Trump’s proposal, which Republicans in Congress had been publicly citing in attempts to pressure Democrats to vote for President Trump’s plan.

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President Trump’s immigration-heavy State of the Union address, laden with warnings about crime and terrorism and heaped with false assertions, may darken the already dimming prospects for a bipartisan deal to protect young immigrants known as Dreamers whose protections Trump revoked last year.

As several separate groups on Capitol Hill meet almost daily to negotiate, they say they have made almost no progress, even on agreeing on the parameters of what an immigration deal could include. Rank-and-file Republicans and Democrats alike say Trump’s insistence, reiterated in the primetime speech and endorsed by GOP leadership, on deep cuts to legal immigration will alienate potential Democratic allies and put the prospects for a narrow deal on DACA in jeopardy.

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On Tuesday, several Republican congressional leaders touted to reporters that Trump’s immigration proposal had been endorsed by the League of United Latin America Citizens (LULAC)—a Latino civil rights group that for years has advocated for a path to citizenship for young immigrants known as Dreamers.

While LULAC’s president Roger Rocha did in fact write a letter to President Trump over the weekend thanking him for “taking the lead” on immigration reform and declaring that the White House framework was one “LULAC can support,” staff at the organization tell TPM that they were completely blindsided by Rocha’s action and were not consulted before the letter was sent.

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Congress failed repeatedly to repeal Obamacare (ACA) in 2017, but succeeded in repealing the individual mandate and, through the latest short-term spending bill, in delaying several of Obamacare’s taxes. In 2018, with the midterms looming and lawmakers skittish, Republicans will likely move away from attacking health care programs through legislation and instead go after them through administrative regulation or, more specifically, deregulation.

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As the deadline for a deal on immigration draws closer, a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers with the unfortunate name “the Number Twos” has been meeting almost daily to negotiate a solution that would protect young immigrants known as Dreamers.

But their first meeting since President Trump unveiled his immigration proposal, which includes billions of dollars to build more walls on the U.S.-Mexico border and deep cuts to several forms of legal immigration, yielded no tangible progress. Though rank-and-file House Republicans and conservative groups have blasted the White House plan as “amnesty” and a violation of Trump’s campaign promises, the GOP leaders attending the meeting of the seconds-in-command from each party in each chamber (hence, the “Number Twos”) had nothing but praise for the proposal.

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