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

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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YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO — Ahead of Ohio’s May 8 primary election, die-hard Democrats like Dave Betras are watching closely, but skeptically, for signs of 2018’s predicted “blue wave.”

“It’s like Donald Trump threw chum in the water and brought out swarms of sharks,” Betras, the chair of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, told TPM. “I see so many people getting excited and go out and march and work against him, but I don’t know whether those people will vote.” 

At the same time, Betras said, Trump remains popular. Some of his policies, like tariffs on Chinese steel, “sell well” in a state hit hard by globalization and outsourcing.

Trump can bang all the porn stars he wants and it won’t matter here,” he quipped. “They haven’t abandoned him yet.”

So far, more Democrats than Republicans have requested absentee ballots — a reverse of the usual midterm trend for the state. But is that a sign of higher enthusiasm on the left, or is it just that the Democratic primary in the governor race is seen as more competitive than the GOP primary. And though new progressive groups have sprouted up in the state amid an outpouring of post-2016 energy, and have organized everything from gun violence marches to an anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative, will those people show up to the polls in a midterm year?

Ever since Donald Trump won big in the longtime Democratic stronghold of Youngstown in 2016, helping him capture the key swing state and propelling him to the White House, Ohio Democrats have been asking themselves how to both coax Trump voters back into the fold and fire up the disaffected segment of the party’s base that sat out the 2016 election. With races for Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General and U.S. Senator in 2018, a great deal is riding on whether they succeed.

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PORT CLINTON, OHIO — When Joe Helle returned to his small, rural hometown in 2011 after six years of active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, he found his voter registration had been purged from the rolls, leaving him unable to cast a ballot in local and statewide elections that year.

“To go off to defend the right to vote only to find I’d been kicked off and couldn’t utilize that right myself, it was crushing,” Helle told TPM.

That experience, along with other frustrations with the area’s political leadership, motivated him to run successfully for mayor in Oak Harbor in 2016. This year, he’s running for his district‘s seat in the state legislature, which he hopes to flip from red to blue. If he wins, he plans to sponsor bills that would make it easier for Ohioans to vote.

“I’m a huge proponent of automatic registration. There’s no good reason we don’t do it,” Helle said. “I also think we should have same-day registration, so that if somebody decides an issue is important to them and they typically aren’t a voter, they can still show up at the polls on Election Day. I want people to vote when they want, as easily as they can.”

Even with a “blue wave” predicted for November, Republicans are expected to maintain their grip on Ohio’s House and Senate, giving Helle’s proposals little chance of becoming law, even if Democrats pick up several seats. There will, however, be several statewide races in Ohio this year — for Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, and Attorney General — that wield significant power over the future of voting rights in the influential swing state.

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Conservative-leaning states have for months been exploring ways to add work requirements to Medicaid; now, President Trump is pushing for something similar on the national level. Last Tuesday, he signed a surprise executive order requiring federal agencies, including the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to investigate how to force recipients of federal social safety net programs, including Medicaid, to prove they’re gainfully employed.

HHS also moved to undermine Obamacare last week by releasing a new rule that would allow counties with only one insurer in Obamacare marketplaces to qualify as “exempt” from the individual mandate in 2018. Because of last December’s GOP tax law, the individual mandate will be gone nationwide in 2019. But this new rule, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, would bump that date up a year for people in hundreds of counties. The rule would also allow Americans whose only marketplace health plan options cover abortion to receive an exception, penalizing states like New York and California that mandate abortion coverage for all marketplace plans.

As the administration works to undermine Obamacare, blue states are continuing to work to shore up the program. New Jersey’s legislature sent Governor Phil Murphy (D) legislation that imposes a state-wide individual mandate to replace the federal mandate that will disappear next year. Those New Jersey residents who don’t buy insurance would pay a fine which would feed a “Health Insurance Premium Security Fund” that will help pay claims for the very ill and keep rates for the rest of the population from rising.

Other states — including some red states — are putting Medicaid expansion on next November’s ballot. Utah looks likely to become the latest state to do so after organizers in the state submitted 165,000 signatures on Monday, more than 50,000 more than were needed to put an initiative on the ballot. Similar campaigns are underway in Idaho and Nebraska. Idaho has a April 30 deadline for organizers to collect the 56,000 signatures the state requires to put a measure on the ballot. Organizers in Nebraska have until July 6 to collect 85,000 signatures.

Maine voted overwhelmingly last November to expand Medicaid, but Governor Paul LePage denounced the move as “fiscally irresponsible” and refused to submit a plan to fund the program by the deadline to do so, April 3. Now, Maine’s Democratic Speaker of the House tells PBS that even if LePage refuses to cooperate, the state’s existing Medicaid funding is enough to pay for the expansion to go into effect, as scheduled, on July 2.

As Republicans throw themselves into their fight to hold onto Congress in the 2018 midterms, The Washington Post observes that few are mentioning Obamacare, which, despite the end of the individual mandate, remains largely intact and the law of the land. That means that for the first time in nearly a decade, Republicans are not running on the issue that played a key role in the formation of the Tea Party and helped buoy many conservative candidates in the 2010 elections.

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COLUMBUS, OHIO — Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Richard Cordray, facing a strong challenge from former Cleveland mayor and congressman Dennis Kucinich, struck a militantly populist tone Tuesday morning, telling a gathering of union leaders and county and city officials that he’s “outraged” about the “plundering” of local government budgets and services triggered by GOP tax cuts.

“They’re making themselves look good and leaving you holding the bag,” he said of Ohio’s Republican governor and legislature. “They’re always telling you to tighten your belts without touching their own.”

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A scathing Inspector General’s report released last week is raising new questions about last summer’s mass reassignment of Interior Department (DOI) employees that disproportionately affected Native Americans.

Now, current and former members of Congress and former department officials tell TPM that two top Trump political appointees at the department  at least one of whom played a key role in the reassignments  have long been hostile to Native concerns. Both officials, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, the department’s second in command, and Associate Deputy Secretary Jim Cason, served in top DOI posts during the George W. Bush administration, at a time of intense conflict between the agency and Native American tribes.

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The reassignment of dozens of senior career Interior Department (DOI) officials last year may have violated federal law, a damning internal report released Wednesday found. But investigators with the DOI Inspector General’s office said they were unable to say definitively because the agency failed to properly document their reasons for ousting the employees.

“Absent documentation, we could not independently determine whether or not the ERB complied with the Federal legal requirements,” said the report, referring to a board of made up of Trump administration appointees at the agency.

The report did determine, however, that the board did not properly consider the officials’ qualifications, time in office, or other valid criteria when selecting them to be forced out of their jobs.

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A routine budget hearing became heated when Democrats challenged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke about the reassignment of nearly a dozen senior Native American employees. TPM first reported last week that Native Americans made up a full third of the officials pushed out of their positions in a major reshuffling last summer.

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