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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

This past week, after plunging insurance markets further into uncertainty by cutting off the risk adjustment payments that insurers who cover a disproportionate number of sick and costly patients are owed under the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration said, “Just kidding!” 

The Department of Health and Human Services issued a final rule clarifying methodology of the program, which redistributes money between different insurance companies and costs taxpayers nothing, and announced the payments would continue. Why they couldn’t have done this all along without threatening to terminate the program is unclear.

HHS also helped shore up the ACA’s markets by approving requests from Wisconsin and Maine to launch reinsurance programs aimed at lowering premiums in the state’s individual insurance market. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is facing a tough reelection race this November, has not yet received an answer from the administration to his other request for a controversial Medicaid waiver that would include strict work requirements and drug tests for the tens of thousands of low-income residents enrolled in the program.

But lest anyone think that the Trump administration suddenly supports the ACA, a new investigation finds that Trump appointees at HHS’ research and policy office have combed through the agency’s archives and “deleted positive references to Obamacare.” The officials have also edited out references to LGBT health issues, released dubious and misleading reports about the impacts of the ACA, and cooked data in a health care study to yield an outcome more flattering to the administration.

HHS also plans to reject a waiver from Utah, and other states should they make the request, to partially expand Medicaid — up to just 100 percent of the federal poverty line instead of the 133 percent required by the ACA. The move, fueled by President Trump’s distaste for anything that appears to support Obamacare, may backfire on Republicans by fomenting support this November for a ballot initiative to fully expand Medicaid in Utah. (The Obama administration refused to allow partial expansions as well in an effort to push states to fully expand.)

The Trump administration is even less keen on what many on the left would like to see succeed the ACA: universal coverage via some form of “Medicare-for-All” system. Last week, CMS Administrator Seema Verma gave a speech bashing the growing number of Democrats campaigning on a Medicare-for-All platform and vowing to reject any waiver that aims to set up a state-level single-payer program.

Republicans are also seizing on a new study published by a libertarian think tank funded by the Koch brothers that estimates the cost of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Medicare-for-All program to be just under $33 trillion over 10 years. Sounds like a lot, yes? But it’s actually a few trillion less than the projected cost of keeping the health care system we have now, and tens of millions more people would be insured.

Finally, happy 53rd birthday to both Medicare and Medicaid, though the Trump administration seems to be only celebrating the former.

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The Trump administration has admitted in court that it deported at least 468 immigrant parents without their children, and while those families are entitled under a federal court order to the chance to be reunified, the Trump administration has yet to make any effort to find them.

“We don’t keep track of individuals once they’ve been deported,” Matthew Albence, the head of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations, told reporters on a conference call Thursday. Asked what the plan is now for reuniting hundreds of children in U.S. custody with parents already removed from the country, a Health and Human Services official demurred, saying they are awaiting instructions from federal courts.

In this vacuum, a host of advocacy and faith-based groups have mobilized, launching a sprawling, transnational effort to track down hundreds of parents and ask them whether they want to their child returned to them or to leave them behind in the United States to pursue asylum on their own.  

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U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told reporters at the G20 conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Saturday that the $12 billion bailout President Trump promised to farmers impacted by the trade war his tariffs triggered will not fully compensate for the income producers are set to lose.

“Obviously this is not going to make farmers whole,” Perdue said, adding that the Trump administration is only promising to help the nation’s farmers this year and is not guaranteeing future support. “It’s for the 2018 crop. We do not expect to do this over a period of time.”

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The New York Times reported Saturday that President Donald Trump’s relationship with his son-in-law Jared Kushner has deteriorated over the past few months, and that the president now routinely complains that “Jared hasn’t been so good for me” and that he could have had NFL star Tom Brady as a son-in-law instead. (Short-lived White House communications direct Anthony Scaramucci has claimed that Ivanka Trump and Brady briefly dated.)

Trump has reportedly told his friends and aides that he wishes both Kushner and his daughter Ivanka would return to New York.

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A federal judge in Los Angeles has ordered the appointment of an independent monitor to force the Trump administration to comply with the minimum safety standards for immigration detention facilities that hold children.

U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee issued the order in response to a class action lawsuit from the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law charging the administration with violating the rights of detained migrant children — both those who were taken from their parents under the now-banned separation policy and those who came to the U.S. alone.

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At the latest federal court hearing over the ongoing migrant family separation crisis, U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw took the Trump administration to task for only reuniting about 1,442 of the more than 2,551 children by the court’s July 26 deadline. Sabraw took particular issue with the government’s lack of progress in finding and contacting the estimated 468 parents who were deported without their children. Hundreds more have been released into the U.S. interior and the Trump administration claims they are not able to find them.

“The government is at fault for losing several hundred parents in the process and that’s where we go next,” Sabraw said, adding that he is far from confident that the administration has made the necessary changes in inter-agency cooperation to ensure something like this never happens again.

“Each (department) was like its own stovepipe, each had its own boss, and they did not communicate,” he said. “What was lost in the process was the family.”

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U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw set a deadline for midnight July 26 for the Trump administration to reunite the thousands migrant families it forcibly separated under its “zero tolerance” policy.

According to a court filing submitted Thursday night, the administration managed to reunite just 1,442 of those children with their parents in ICE custody. Another 378  were released under “other appropriate circumstances,” including reunification with a parent already released by ICE or released to another relative or approved sponsor.

The administration identified 711 children they say are not “eligible” for reunification by the court’s deadline.

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Thursday marks the court-ordered deadline for the Trump administration to reunite the thousands of immigrant families it forcibly separated earlier this year, but more than 900 children will not be returned to their parents — either because their parents were deported and cannot be located, are undergoing further investigation, have an alleged criminal record, or haven’t been identified at all.

Attorneys working on the ground with the families described a reunification process marked by chaos, fear and frustration, with parents struggling to find out whether they are eligible for reunification and reportedly facing pressure from ICE officials to sign papers renouncing their asylum claims.

“There is profound trauma and confusion about this process, with many not knowing when or if they would ever see their children again,” said Royce Murray with the American Immigration Council, whose lawyers have met with more than 150 detained parents in the El Paso, Texas area over the past few days.

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In a new court filing Wednesday afternoon, the American Civil Liberties Union accused the Trump administration of presenting separated parents with their legal options in a “coercive and misleading manner,” leading many of those parents to sign deportations papers renouncing their right to be reunited with their children without fully understanding the consequences.

The ACLU is demanding U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw, who ordered the government to reunify most separated families by Thursday, to block the administration from deporting any parents until they have had at least seven days post-reunification to talk to their children and an attorney about “what might be the most consequential decision of their lives.” After keeping parents and children apart for months with little communication, the filing argues, “the Government should not now be able to argue that it cannot wait a mere 7 days to remove these families, so that they can be advised on their life-altering decisions.”

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This post has been updated with a statement from Secretary Nielsen. 

As he headed into a meeting with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) vowed to “hold her feet to the fire” on the Trump administration’s family separation policy.

“If she thought she was uncomfortable trying to eat in a restaurant in Washington D.C., that will be nothing compared to the heat she will face when we speak today,” he said, referring to a recent incident where Nielsen was heckled by protesters at an upscale Mexican joint near the White House. “We need answers, not just ourselves but for the American people and for those children. ”

But after meeting for more than an hour with Nielsen, Gutierrez and the other the members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus told reporters they remain largely in the dark on the Trump administration’s efforts to locate and reunite hundreds of parents and children by a court’s Thursday deadline.

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