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 Congress passed a massive tax overhaul into law last week, it also knocked out one of the key pillars of the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate.

Though there is an open debate among health care experts as to just how effective the mandate and its penalty has been over the past few years at pushing young and healthy people to sign up for health insurance, nearly all agree that the repeal will be a severe blow to the nation’s health care system, driving up premiums, scaring away insurers, and swelling the ranks of the uninsured.

While President Trump has repeatedly and inaccurately declared that by killing the mandate he has essentially killed Obamacare in its entirety, health economists predict that even in the worst case scenario, the ACA will manage to survive—bloody and bruised but very much alive.

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The morning after Christmas, President Donald Trump resumed his victory lap on the GOP tax plan, boasting correctly that he had repealed “the very unfair and unpopular individual mandate,” but incorrectly adding that doing so “essentially repeals (over time) ObamaCare.”

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The proposal Republicans offered to fund for six months a popular child health care program would also cut $750 million from the Affordable Care Act’s public health fund. The $750 million is technically being redirected to community health centers and other programs that have also been running short on funds. Nonetheless, the proposed cuts are prompting pushback from Democrats who have otherwise pressed the GOP to reauthorize funding for the child health care program, the Children’s Health Insurance Programs (also known as CHIP).

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The morning after casting her vote for a tax bill that kills Obamacare’s individual mandate, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) put out a statement saying the health care policies she demanded in exchange for her vote will not be considered at all this year.

One bill would to restore government subsidies to insurance companies, known as cost sharing reduction (CSR) payments, that the Trump administration cut off earlier this year. Another would set up a temporary federal reinsurance program aimed at lowering premiums. Collins’ third demand was a waiver of deep automatic cuts to Medicare and other federal programs triggered by the $1.4 trillion price tag of the tax cuts passed this week.

Now, it appears all three demands will not be met this year.

“It has become clear that Congress will only be able to pass another short-term extension to prevent a government shutdown and to continue a few essential programs,” Collins said in a joint statement with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who co-sponsored legislation to restore CSR payments.

“There is every reason to believe that these important provisions can and will be delivered as part of a bipartisan agreement” in January, the lawmakers added.

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Just a few hours before the Senate prepares to vote on a massive overhaul of the American tax system, a host of House Republicans told reporters that the promises made to secure the vote of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) have no chance of passing the lower chamber and becoming law.

Collins announced Monday that she would vote for the tax bill based on promises from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to support two health care bills aimed at mitigating the expected damage from the tax bill’s provision killing Obamacare’s individual mandate.

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After a long year of legislative face-plants, the House of Representatives voted Tuesday to approve a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax system and knock out a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate.

As the House conducted just one hour of debate on the bill Tuesday afternoon, several protesters disrupted, chanting “kill the bill, don’t kill us,” “liars” and “shame” as they were removed from the House gallery overlooking the chamber. Undeterred, lawmakers proceeded to vote 227 to 203 on the bill.

“God made Republicans to cut taxes,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) with a chuckle, just before the vote. “This is in our DNA. Most people came here to try to do a number of things, but one of them is to lower the tax burden on the American people and to make American businesses more competitive. This is a very uniting theme for us.”

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Republicans and Democrats must join hands on a budget of some sort by midnight on Friday to avoid a government shutdown, and lawmakers are scrambling to resolve disputes on a host of issues from abortion rights to natural disaster aid to the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Since Congress allowed funding for CHIP to lapse at the end of September, states have been living on borrowed time—demanding emergency stopgap funding from D.C., tapping into their own reserves, and sending out notices to families warning them that their children’s health coverage may soon disappear.

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In a speech on the Senate floor on Monday, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reiterated his promise to Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) to hold votes this week on three policies to mitigate the damage the tax bill would do to the nation’s health insurance markets. Collins originally said her vote for the tax bill—which is scheduled to happen either Tuesday or Wednesday—would depend on whether the other policies become law. But the vote on the continuing resolution to fund the government and the bills McConnell plans to attach to it, won’t happen until later in the week, making her promise Monday to support the tax bill a giant leap of faith.    

“We must pass a routine waiver to avoid unacceptable cuts in Medicare funding and other vital programs,” McConnell said, referring to Congress’ PAYGO law that unless waived would trigger hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to federal programs due to the tax bill’s $1 trillion-plus price tag.

“And of particular importance,” he continued, “faced with the continued failure of Obamacare to keep health insurance affordable for working Americans, we must take this opportunity to pass bipartisan solutions that will help stabilize collapsing health insurance markets and lower premiums for individuals and families across the country.” 

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Republicans in the House and Senate are racing to pass a massive tax bill before leaving D.C. for the holidays, and after a week of closed-door meetings and backroom horse trading, they unveiled their final draft at the age-old hour of Washington news dumps: 5:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

The latest iteration of the sweeping tax overhaul looks significantly different than the versions that came out of the House and Senate earlier this month. Many of the most controversial pieces of the bill have been removed. Some tweaks have been made to further benefit the wealthy and certain members of Congress. And while the vast majority of GOP lawmakers are lining up behind the bill and promising to send it to President Trump’s desk before Christmas, a few absences due to illness and a few last wavering Republicans in the Senate are making leaders sweat.

Here are the five points you need to know before the House and Senate vote on the final bill next week:

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