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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

When the Director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) abruptly resigned last week after less than six months in his post, the agency gave no explanation.

But an e-mail from a BIA employee obtained by TPM claims the director, Bryan Rice, exhibited aggressive and intimidating behavior toward her in an incident she believes was captured by a surveillance camera. The woman involved and her supporters have been urging tribal leaders — via e-mail and social media — to submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the Interior Department for the video of the alleged incident. At least five did so in the weeks leading up to Rice’s resignation, according to the agency’s FOIA logs.

The five identically worded FOIA queries read: “Request footage of the Indian Affairs FOIA Officer, Jessica Rogers and Bryan Rice, Bureau of Indian Affairs Director on the 4th floor north and south hallway in the main Interior building on December 6, 2017, between on or about 9 am and noon.”

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Last November, Mainers overwhelmingly voted in favor of a ballot measure that would expand Medicaid. Until now, the state’s firebrand Republican Governor Paul LePage has successfully blocked the expansion by simply ignoring his constituents and refusing to move forward on its implementation. The standoff may soon have to end: On Monday, a group of health-care advocates in the state sued LePage, saying his foot-dragging is directly harming the 80,000 low-income people who were supposed to be eligible to enroll in Medicaid this year.

Because LePage is term-limited and cannot be reelected this fall, his stonewalling can only delay implementation of the Medicaid expansion for so long. But already his defiance is inspiring other anti-ACA Republicans to follow suit.

In Idaho, where pro-Medicaid advocates announced Monday that they’ve surpassed the amount of required signatures to put expansion on the ballot this November, a far-right candidate for governor has already vowed to pull a LePage if it passes.

In a GOP gubernatorial primary debate last week, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) said he “would look at all the options” for overturning the initiative to expand Medicaid to cover 62,000 more people in the state. His opponent, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, disagreed, promising instead to “adhere to the will of the voters.”

Supporters of the Medicaid expansion insist they will prevail both at the ballot box and in the courts, but Maine’s experience with a hostile governor serves as a cautionary tale for advocates working to gather signatures for expansion initiatives in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah.

Meanwhile, the uproar over Trump’s HHS’ suggestion that it may force Native American tribes to comply with Medicaid work requirements continues. Ten senators — nine Democrats and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) — wrote to the agency expressing alarm at HHS’ position that exempting tribes from the requirements would be giving them an illegal race-based privilege. “Tribes are not a racial group but rather political communities,” the senators wrote. “The views expressed fail to recognize the unique legal status of Indian tribes and their members under federal law, the U.S. Constitution, treaties, and the federal trust relationship.”

As more states with Native American tribal populations seek permission to implement Medicaid work requirements, including OhioMichiganArizona, this is likely to become a major legal fight in the months ahead. Ohio, which just submitted its work-requirements proposal Monday night, estimates that 18,000 people could be kicked off Medicaid. Health advocates say the actual number’s much higher, and are exploring a lawsuit. 

Finally, a new study from the Commonwealth Fund released Tuesday finds that Trump administration policies are driving up the number of uninsured Americans. About four million working-age people have lost insurance coverage since 2016, the group reports, citing a laundry list of federal actions exacerbating the trend, including “deep cuts in advertising and outreach during the marketplace open-enrollment periods, a shorter open enrollment period,” the repeal of the individual mandate, Medicaid work requirements, and “recent actions to increase the availability of insurance policies that don’t comply with ACA minimum benefit standards.”

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On Monday night, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) officially submitted a request to the Department of Health and Human Services for permission to force the roughly 700,000 people enrolled in the state’s Medicaid expansion to prove they’re working at least 80 hours per month. If the waiver is approved, Ohioans unable to find work would have to get placed with an organization in their county and work without pay to earn the value of their health care benefits.

Ohio’s non-profit Center for Health Affairs estimates that 18,000 people could lose  coverage due to the requirement, though advocacy groups say that number could be much higher if eligible people are deterred by the bureaucratic hoops they have to jump through to document their employment status or prove they’re exempt due to a disability.

“We believe they’re vastly underestimating,” Katie McGarvey with the Legal Aid Society of Ohio told TPM. “There’s not an automatic way to do those exemptions, so each county will have to contact each individual, get documentation, and do an assessment. What if the person doesn’t get the mail or doesn’t have transportation to the appointment? It’s a huge administrative barrier and a lot of people who need the exemption and are eligible will fall through the cracks.”

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At an invitation-only roundtable with Capitol Hill reporters Friday morning, Rep. Steny Hoyer, the number two House Democrat, gave a full-throated defense of Democrats’ strategy of putting a thumb on the scale in primaries across the country. Hoyer was responding to criticism sparked earlier this week when The Intercept published a recording in which he urged a progressive candidate in Colorado to drop out of his race.

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Predicting the outcome of a Supreme Court case based on what the justices ask at oral arguments can be a fool’s errand, since their questions don’t always match up with the opinions they eventually write (and one justice famously says nothing at all). Many outlets are predicting that the court will side, possibly overwhelmingly, with the government — not wanting to second-guess their claim that the travel ban was motivated by true national security concerns. But it’s far from a foregone conclusion: Others, including myself, are not so sure, and heard several moments where justices seemed unconvinced by the government’s claims.

We’ll have to wait until June to learn the fate of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, but I want to highlight some of the key moments I observed inside the courtroom Wednesday morning, which may provide clues as to how the justices are looking at the case.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — In weighing the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban in highly-anticipated oral arguments Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court Justices returned repeatedly to the question of whether Trump’s executive order trampled on Congress’ right to set immigration policy.

On both the question of Separation of Powers and whether Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets “tainted” the legal rationale for the travel ban, the justices seemed to split along predictable ideological lines, with progressive Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor taking the lead in asking the toughest questions of the Trump administration and conservative Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts grilling the travel ban’s challengers. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer were more reserved, expressing skepticism toward some of the administration’s claims but not revealing a clear desire to strike down the ban. As usual, Justice Clarence Thomas remained silent.

While no certain five-vote majority was apparent from the arguments either in support of the government or the challengers, the justices expressed a general deference to the executive branch, especially when it comes to claims of protecting national security, and did not seem eager to issue a decision stopping the ban in its tracks.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Early in the oral arguments Wednesday morning over the constitutionality of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, the Supreme Court’s more progressive justices grilled Solicitor General Noel Francisco about how much they should take Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets and campaign statements into account in determining whether the executive order was motivated by true national security concerns or by racial animus.

Specifically, Justice Elena Kagan asked Francisco to imagine an “out-of-the-box” President who campaigned as a “vehement anti-Semite,” and continued stoking a “hatred of Jews” during his time in office, who directs his staff to write a proclamation banning immigration from Israel.

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Ohio bucked the national trend in 2013, expanding Medicaid under a Republican governor and state legislature, but that expansion could now be in jeopardy. While the Democrats running for governor in 2018 have vowed to preserve the expansion, the GOP frontrunner wants a more aggressive federal waiver to block-grant Medicaid, impose work requirements and implement other restrictions, and his primary opponent has vowed to kill the expansion entirely.

Ohio’s May primary and November general election will determine the future of health care in a state whose death toll from opioid overdoses is second in the nation, and whose rural hospitals depend heavily on Medicaid for their survival.

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A new study out Monday morning from the Kaiser Family Foundation offers yet more proof of the threat the Trump administration’s short-term insurance rule poses to the country’s health-care markets. The rule allows healthier people to buy cheap, skimpy health-insurance plans, a policy that will drive up costs for sicker individuals who rely on comprehensive Obamacare plans to cover their medical needs. But Kaiser’s experts say even those who think they only need a bare-bones plan could find themselves deep in debt.

“Typical short-term policies do not cover maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health care, preventive care, and other essential benefits,” the report found. Additionally, “applicants with health conditions can be turned down or charged higher premiums, without limit, based on health status, gender, age, and other factors.” Furthermore, because the plans are not renewable, someone who becomes sick while enrolled could be shut out altogether after a single year.

The new report comes as the Trump administration wraps up the public comment period for its rule allowing these short-term plans to proliferate as a separate shadow market that will compete with Obamacare’s individual market. The Obama administration had limited use of these plans to just three months.

As we await the text of the final rule, even insurance industry lobby groups are asking the administration to slow down. “Short-term plans can provide an important temporary bridge for Americans who are transitioning between plans. But they are not a replacement for comprehensive coverage,” writes Matt Eyles, the new CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), a health-insurance trade association.

Meanwhile, two Trump administration trends — hostility toward American Indian rights and a zeal for imposing Medicaid work requirements — are converging.

Several states, including Michigan and Tennessee, are rushing to join the three that have already won permission from HHS to implement the work requirements — potentially pushing hundreds of thousands of people off of Medicaid rolls.

American Indian tribes have argued that their members should be exempt, as they are citizens of sovereign nations. But even though HHS has long considered tribes sovereign — for example, they never had to comply with Obamacare’s individual mandate — the Trump administration is arguing that American Indians are a race, not citizens of a sovereign government, and that an exemption would be an illegal “racial preference.” This argument, which goes against hundreds of years of tribes’ having their own legal standing, was made by political appointees at HHS, and may result in a lawsuit. Tribal communities have some of the highest unemployment rates and faces some of the most serious health challenges in the country, including very high rates of addiction.

Meanwhile, Trump’s HHS is working to roll back protections for transgender patients, undoing an Obama-era executive order banning doctors, hospitals and health-insurance companies from discriminating against anyone due to their gender identity. While the effort may end up in the same place as the administration’s attempt to re-ban transgender people from the military — tied up in federal court — many fear the change could empower care providers to discriminate or deny treatment.

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On Wednesday, in its final oral argument of the term, the Supreme Court will consider whether President Donald Trump’s ban on immigrants and refugees from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela and Chad can be permanent.

At the heart of the travel ban case is how much power the executive branch has over the U.S. immigration system, whether banning citizens of majority-Muslim countries violates the First Amendment, and whether Trump’s tweets and campaign speeches can be used as evidence that the policy was motivated by anti-Muslim animus.

The Supreme Court voted in December, with only two justices publicly dissenting, to stay a lower court’s ruling against the ban and allow it to go into effect — indicating that they’re leaning toward giving the administration the benefit of the doubt. But with a growing body of evidence that Trump and some of his advisers routinely express anti-Muslim animus, challengers hope the court will instead strike it down.

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