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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

On Tuesday, Maine became the first state in the nation to expand Medicaid through a ballot initiative. Just after 10 p.m., the Associated Press called the race in favor of the measure expanding government health insurance to more than 80,000 low-income residents. Maine now joins the 31 states and the District of Columbia in the Medicaid expansion camp.

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Republicans in Congress and President Trump are actively exploring a new target in their ongoing campaign against the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate.

For weeks, Trump has been pushing GOP legislators to include a provision repealing the mandate in their already-unwieldy tax reform package, and while the policy is not yet in the text of the bill, Republicans in the House and Senate are fighting to insert it. Should that fail, the Trump administration reportedly has an executive order in the works to dismantle as much of the mandate as possible—though he wouldn’t be able to completely eliminate it with a stroke of his pen.

Regardless of whether mandate is undermined by legislative or executive action, doing so would further roil the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace, which has already been kneecapped by a host of budget and policy changes this year. It would sow more chaos in an open enrollment period already hampered by misinformation public confusion.

Here are five points to keep in mind as the mandate becomes the next piece of Obamacare to come under fire:

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Since President Trump took office in January, health care experts and advocates have sounded the alarm that his budget cuts and policy changes would severely reduce health insurance enrollment—predicting a dip of more than 1 million people compared to last year.

But so far, according to reports by The Hill and the Washington Post not officially confirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services, the opposite is happening.

More than 200,000 people signed up for a plan when Obamacare’s open enrollment period began on Nov. 1, twice as many as enrolled on day one last year.

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On Tuesday morning, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) unveiled new criteria for evaluating pitches from states to tweak their Medicaid programs, a significant departure from the Obama administration’s approach to such requests.

Whereas in the past states had to prove that proposed changes would “increase and strengthen” health coverage of their low-income population, that requirement is gone, replaced with language that welcomes proposals for work requirements, drug tests and other hurdles that experts predict would reduce the Medicaid rolls by hundreds of thousands of people.

In a statement distributed to reporters Tuesday morning, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma called the goal of covering more people a “hollow victory of numbers,” and instead called for changes that “reduce federal regulatory burdens, increase efficiency, and promote transparency and accountability.”

The announcement also promises to fast-track approval of states’ proposed Medicaid changes (which HHS grants in the form of waivers from existing Medicaid requirements) and to scrap some of the requirements that states report back to the federal government whether the changes improve health outcomes for recipients.

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Late update, 8:09 p.m. ET: The respected bipartisan Tax Policy Center took the unusual step late Monday of retracting its initial analysis of the House Republican tax bill after finding an error in its modeling.

“This error involved the additional child tax credit component of the proposed legislation,” TPC said on its blog. “TPC staff are in the process of revising the analysis and will release a corrected version as soon as possible.”

Original story, headlined “Study: Under GOP Tax Bill, Millions Pay More While Top 1% Gets Major Breaks”

An analysis of House Republicans’ tax bill released Monday by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center found a wide disparity between the winners and losers under the plan—with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans netting nearly 50 percent of all the benefits and nearly 30 percent of Americans seeing an increase in their tax bill after 10 years.

Thanks to the loss of several popular tax deductions, including state and local taxes, medical expenses, student loan interest and others, the report estimates that 12 percent of taxpayers would pay higher taxes starting in 2018 and at least 28 percent of taxpayers would pay more by 2027.

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The Trump administration is currently sitting on an executive order that would essentially gut Obamacare’s individual mandate—the pillar of the law that requires all Americans to purchase health insurance or pay a penalty, according to a report Monday in the Washington Examiner. The White House, however, denied the news, telling the Examiner the question of the mandate is “best resolved legislatively.”

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Under President Obama, Obamacare’s open enrollment period typically kicked off with a bang—appearances by the President on late night TV and in viral videos, social media blitzes led by the secretary of Health and Human Services, press conferences highlighting Americans getting health insurance for the first time, daily conference calls between government and outside advocacy groups, and barrages of emails to millions of Americans reminding them to sign up for coverage or risk paying a tax penalty.

This year, when the first full open enrollment period of the Trump administration began on Nov. 1, things looked very different.

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More than a month after Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and community health centers to lapse, sending states scrambling to find emergency funding, the House of Representatives voted Friday on a bill to reauthorize the programs. Almost every Democrat voted no because the bill pays for CHIP by cutting more than $10 billion from Obamacare’s public health and prevention fund, and by raising Medicare fees for higher-income senior citizens.

The bill also cuts the grace period for people who miss a payment on their health insurance premiums from 90 days to 30, a change expected to cause about 700,000 people to lose their insurance.

The bill’s lead author, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), blasted Democrats Friday morning, accusing them of “voting against kids and their doctors.”

“We’re fully funding CHIP for five years. We’re fulling funding Community Health Centers for two years. We’re asking the wealthiest seniors in America to pay $135  more for their Medicare,” Walden said, casting withering looks at his Democratic colleagues preparing to vote against the measure. “How ironic. How cynical.”

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House Republicans unveiling their 429-page tax reform bill Thursday morning promised it would bring simplicity and prosperity to all.

“On net, everyone’s better off,” Rep. David Brat (R-VA) enthused to reporters in the hallway outside the room where lawmakers were briefed on the bill.

But like the current tax system, the House GOP plan would have winners and losers.

The draft released Thursday lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, nearly doubles the standard deduction, and keeps a loophole for hedge fund managers that President Trump had promised to eliminate. 

To partially make up the cost, the proposal gets rid of a host of deductions—including those for medical expenses, moving expenses, hiring veterans, investing in poor neighborhoods, alimony, employee achievement awards, adoptions, the interest paid on student loans, most electric cars, and state and local taxes—while putting new limits on several others, like the interest paid on home mortgages.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) urged his colleagues and the press not to sweat these details. “I’m looking at the plan overall,” he said. “If you pick out a part and only look at one thing, one thing could look great, but the elimination of other things might diminish the importance of that. Or something might look bad, but when you see the other benefits people get, it could be okay.”

Yet a firestorm of criticism began to ignite as soon as details of the plan began to leak out earlier this week, with major outside organizations on the left and right announcing their opposition to the bill. Here are the five most controversial provisions tucked into the text that could doom Republicans’ top legislative goal.

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Republican lawmakers confirmed to TPM Thursday morning, hours before the rollout of the long-awaited GOP tax bill, that contrary to President Trump’s demands, the legislation would not include a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate.

But many lawmakers, including the head of the large and influential Republican Study Committee, said despite fears of tanking the entire bill over the controversial health care provision, they still may fight for its inclusion in the weeks to come.

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