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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

The fact that President Trump referred to certain nations as “shithole countries” last week did not come up once during Wednesday morning’s meeting between White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and more than a dozen members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

“I’m sure some people expected sparks to go off, but we just left that alone, because we didn’t see that as moving the agenda of the DREAMers forward,” Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) said when he emerged from the meeting.

But the reported slur hung over the meeting like a cloud, and the Latino members were additionally frustrated that Kelly gave them no clear indication of what the White House is willing to support on an immigration deal, and did not himself know the details of the bipartisan plans put forward in the House and the Senate. Other members present said while no s-bombs were dropped, Kelly used other terms they found offensive to refer to certain immigrants and immigration mechanisms.

With a potential government shutdown just a few days away, and many Democrats vowing to vote against any spending bill that doesn’t include relief for DACA recipients stripped of protections by the Trump administration, the lawmakers said Wednesday’s meeting was an opportunity for Democrats to “stand tall” and make sure the administration is not only listening to anti-immigrant hardliners.

“As you know, the President changes his mind quite often,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). “So what we want to do is make sure that the last person he hears is somebody who has heard from us.”

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Friday marks the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump taking the oath of office, and unless lawmakers can eke out a deal in the coming days, it could also mark the first government shutdown under his watch, and under unified one-party control in Washington.

Trump declared back in May that the country “needs a good shutdown” to “fix mess,” and amid uncertainty that lawmakers and the White House can agree on a path forward on government funding, immigration, or health care, a shutdown is becoming a tangible possibility.

Between now and Friday, Congress and the White House will scramble to cut a deal on DACA, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and a continuing resolution to keep the government open. Should those talks fail, the race will be on to blame the opposing party for the ensuing wreckage.

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On Friday, Kentucky became the first state in the nation, and in the nation’s history, to win permission from the federal government to impose a work requirement and several other new restrictions on its Medicaid program.

“It will be transformational in all the right ways,” Governor Matt Bevin (R) said in a speech announcing the waiver approval. “It has been long overdue.”

Friday’s announcement, which by the state’s own estimate will result in more than 90,000 people losing Medicaid coverage, is yet another marker in a massive about-face for health care in the state. Kentucky—which just a few years ago made headlines as an Obamacare “success story,” launching its own health insurance exchange and expanding Medicaid to more than 400,000 low-income residents—has seen a sharp reversal since electing a Tea Party governor in 2015.

With a whopping one-third of the state’s population now enrolled in Medicaid, and with state resources strained by a full-blown opioid addiction crisis, the fate of the new Medicaid work requirements will determine the future of health care not just for Kentucky but the nine states and counting who have their own waiver applications pending before Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“Kentucky will soon be the unfortunate poster child of this dangerous policy,” lamented Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY). “My only hope is that the chaos caused by this policy and the desperation of the Kentucky families who will soon lose their only access to health coverage will force Governor Bevin to demonstrate some level of compassion and reverse this disgraceful policy.”

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The Trump administration has swiftly followed through on its promise Thursday to grant approval for states to impose work requirements on their Medicaid programs, giving Kentucky a green light Friday afternoon.

Nine other states have similar waiver requests sitting before Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services, and more approvals are expected in the coming weeks.

It’s the first time in the program’s 50-plus-year history that such a requirement has been allowed, and lawsuits are expected to follow close on the heels of the announcement.

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The Trump administration released guidelines Thursday morning for states seeking to impose work requirements on their Medicaid population—a move expected to reduce Medicaid enrollment by hundreds of thousands of people.

Under the new policy, states can require able-bodied adults to either work, volunteer, attend job training or prove they’re actively searching for a job to qualify for Medicaid. People with a disability, the elderly, children and pregnant women are exempt.

Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning that 10 states have already applied: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Some of these states had previously sought permission from the Obama administration to purge non-working adults from their Medicaid rolls, and were denied.

Though very few people are likely to be impacted, congressional Democrats and health care advocates say the work requirement violates the original purpose of Medicaid and traps people in a Catch 22—too sick to work, but unable to get care unless they are working.

Here are five things to know as the state waiver approvals start rolling out:

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It has now been more than 100 days since the Republican-controlled Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to lapse, and despite several infusions of stopgap funding from both Capitol Hill and the Department of Health and Human Services, states could run out of money as early as next week. By March, according to a new report from Georgetown University, nearly half of all states will exhaust all of their federal funding. The program covers nearly 9 million children and pregnant women across the country.

While members of Congress on both sides of the aisle insist that CHIP must be reauthorized, GOP leaders have yet to even schedule a vote, and the program has been stuck in limbo for months amid disagreements about how to pay for it.

A new email from the Congressional Budget Office to lawmakers obtained by TPM notes, however, that renewing the program could actually save the federal government money.

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In a sprawling hour-long discussion with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, President Donald Trump took a range of positions on negotiations over the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program—swinging wildly from demanding billions in funding for a border wall and other immigration restrictions in exchange for renewing DACA to endorsing Democrats proposal for a “clean” renewal and, later, a complete overhaul of the immigration system.

“If you want to take it that further step, I’ll take the heat,” Trump told the stunned lawmakers. “You are not that far away from comprehensive immigration reform.”

But the President’s tendency to change positions as frequently as he orders Diet Cokes is once again causing a major headache for lawmakers as they attempt to craft policies without a clear idea of what the White House is willing to support. With no agreement yet on whether a DACA deal will be a part of the Jan. 19 spending bill, what the exact status for the 800,000 impacted young immigrants would be, and what forms of “border security” Trump is demanding, the mass confusion is raising the potential for a government shutdown.

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President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, former pharmaceutical executive Alex Azar, said during his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning that he supports legislation that failed in Congress earlier this year that would have repealed much of the Affordable Care Act and converted Medicaid into a shrinking block grant.

“There are elements that are very positive, such as allowing states to run their own budgets,” Azar said, when asked by one of the failed bill’s sponsors about his views on the legislation. “Incentives can be reoriented in a very positive way for more state empowerment through Graham-Cassidy-Heller.”

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In the wake of a surprisingly robust open enrollment period, the small health insurance co-op Maine Community Health Options (MCHO) became the first insurer in the country to sue the Trump administration over millions in subsidies that the federal government cut off in October.

The text of the Affordable Care Act, MCHO argued, guarantees the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurance companies to compensate them for having to accept patients regardless of their health status. Following the Trump administration’s move to terminate the payments, insurers still have to provide the subsidies to low-income enrollees, but they no longer get reimbursed. A December report from Maine’s Bureau of Insurance says MCHO lost $1.9 million in October alone due to the loss of the CSRs, and the company’s lawsuit says it lost out on at least $5.6 million for the remainder of 2017.

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