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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

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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Congressional Republicans returned Tuesday from a two-week recess to President Trump fuming about a raid on his personal attorney’s office and new reports that he will move to terminate the Russia investigation by firing either Special Counsel Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

A small handful of lawmakers are attempting to revive sidelined legislation that would protect Mueller from Trump. But just hours before reports came to light that Trump sought to fire Mueller in December, most GOP senators were shrugging the matter off entirely, insisting the President’s angry words were just words.

Democrats, though they don’t have the power to call hearings or to bring bills to floor, are attempting to create a sense of urgency on Capitol Hill and spur their GOP colleagues to action, warning that firing either Mueller or Rosenstein would be an impeachable offense.

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Throughout the last few months, we’ve watched a wave of states try to restrict or roll back their Medicaid expansion programs and flout the remaining pieces of the Affordable Care Act. Now, with health care costs rising and the midterm elections looming, a group of blue and purple states is moving in the opposite direction.

After years of partisan battles, Virginia could move as soon as this week to expand Medicaid to 400,000 low-income residents. A budget expanding Medicaid already passed the state House of Delegates, and a few key Republicans in the state Senate have broken ranks, making the bill’s final passage possible. In exchange for their votes, these Republicans are making a demand that Democrats are likely to agree to: Tax credits for lower-middle-income Virginians who don’t qualify for Medicaid, to help them deal with rising deductibles and co-pays. The legislature convenes for a special session on Wednesday.

Across the river in Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan (who just happens to be running for reelection in his Democratic-leaning state this fall) signed a bill to set up a reinsurance program for his ACA marketplace to subsidize care for the most expensive enrollees.

Meanwhile, New Jersey may soon become the first state to implement a replacement for the individual mandate following Congress’ vote to kill it via the tax bill. The state legislature is set to vote this Thursday on two health-care bills; one would set up a state individual mandate and the other would create a reinsurance program.

The state actions to shore up both Medicaid and Obamacare’s individual markets show that elected officials on both sides of the aisle are cognizant of the damage the Trump administration and Congress have done to health-care costs by tossing out the individual mandate, canceling cost-sharing reduction payments, defunding open enrollment outreach and allowing the sale of short-term “junk” plans. These actions are widely predicted to drive up premiums right before the pivotal 2018 midterms.

In fact, according to final Obamacare enrollment data released by HHS last week, while the number of people enrolling is much higher than expected given GOP actions to sabotage the law, the risk pool will be sicker, older, and more expensive for the federal government than in past years.

Some Republican-controlled states, however, are continuing to pursue policies that will drive insurances rates and the number of uninsured residents higher in years to come. Idaho, after its first plan to sell non-ACA compliant plans was rejected by HHS, is trying again, hoping this time to get federal approval to set up a shadow Obamacare market that may draw many young and healthy people away from their comprehensive, regulated plans.

And following the lead of Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas, more GOP-led states are attempting to impose work requirements on their Medicaid populations. Louisiana is “studying the concept,” Ohio will submit its work requirements waiver to HHS within days, and Tennessee is pushing a bill to implement work requirements and charge the federal government for the hefty cost of implementation.

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Thanks to the GOP tax bill, the individual mandate penalty for not purchasing health insurance will be no more as of 2019. But that’s apparently not soon enough for the Trump administration. The Department of Health and Human Services released a new rule late Monday afternoon saying that people who live in counties with only one insurance company on the individual market can qualify for a “hardship exemption” and won’t be penalized on their 2018 taxes.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reassigned or demoted at least five high-ranking officials who questioned his spending and other leadership decisions — including the purchase of pricey office furniture and Pruitt’s desire to use sirens to cut through D.C. traffic — according to a New York Times report Thursday afternoon. Four of the officials were career staff and one was a political appointee.

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