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    WASHINGTON – The Senate Wednesday afternoon rejected a Democratic-led proposal to overturn a Trump administration rule on short-term health insurance plans.

    The measure was defeated 50-50. It needed a simple majority to pass.

    All 49 Democrats voted no as did Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

    The measure was introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

    The Labor Department first announced the rule in January. It permits the sale of health insurance polices across state lines. Many of the polices provide barebones benefits and do not conform with Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates.

    Prior to the vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer described policies sold under the rule as “junk insurance.”

    “These plans are junk insurance, period, no ands, ifs, or buts. Junk,” Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a floor speech.

    He added: “We prohibited them in the past. This administration wants these junk insurance plans to run rampant and let people be duped into thinking they’re having insurance when it covers almost nothing. They’re a massive risk to any American family who purchases them, and worse, they cause rates to go up for everyone else, even those who elect not to buy one.”

    The administration has defended the rule, saying it expands consumer choice and encourages employers to band together to insure more people.

    The GOP tax reform bill signed into law last year eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate but left the employer mandate in place.

    WASHINGTON – Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday blasted a Trump administration proposal that would permit the sale of health insurance policies across state lines.

    “The administration’s announcement today is disturbingly consistent with an administration clearly hell-bent on sabotaging the health insurance markets and sending premiums soaring for millions of Americans,” Schumer said in a statement.

    “This regulation is simply a roundabout attempt to allow for the sale of junk insurance, which would actually increase out-of-pocket costs on many Americans, particularly leaving older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions with utterly unaffordable health care costs and fewer choices,” he added.

    The Department of Labor announced the proposed rule in a press release Thursday.

    The department said the proposed rule “applies only to employer-sponsored health insurance” and “would allow employers to join together as a single group to purchase insurance in the large group market.”

    The department said that under the proposed rule: “Small Business Health Plans (Association Health Plans) cannot charge individuals higher premiums based on health factors or refuse to admit employees to a plan because of health factors.”

    The tax reform bill President Donald Trump signed into law in December repeals the Obamacare individual mandate but leaves the employer mandate in place. The mandate requires businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to offer health insurance.

    As a result, many businesses have resorted to cutting back on staff and reducing employee hours.

    The announcement of the proposed rule comes as Congress is considering legislation that would reinstate Obamacare Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments for up to two years. Last October Trump signed an executive order terminating the payments.

    By Anthony Jackson

    WASHINGTON – Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and other Senate Democrats slammed the tax reform bill on Thursday.

    “The Republican bill is a dagger to the heart of the Affordable Care Act and private markets that the president claims to be a strong supporter of,” Wyden said at a news conference.

    “It’s going to threaten millions of Americans who are eligible for Medicaid that don’t enroll, likely, because they may not know that it is even an option.”

    The Senate version of the Tax Cuts and Jobs act would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires coverage.

    The purpose of the individual mandate is to keep premiums and care affordable by maintaining a pool of healthy people to offset the cost. The House version of the bill keeps the mandate.

    Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) released a statement on Nov. 14  saying: “Repealing the mandate pays for more tax cuts for working families and protects them from being fined by the IRS for not being able to afford insurance that Obamacare made unaffordable in the first place.”

    The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said a repeal of the individual mandate would save more than $300 billion a decade, but would leave 13 million Americans without health care.

    In a Nov. 8 statement, the CBO said that repealing the individual mandate would increase premiums by 10 percent because the health insurance pool would shrink as healthy people opt out.

    The tax bill includes a provision to sell Arctic drilling leases to oil and natural gas companies.

    The bill includes an amendment doubling child tax credits and allowing parents to expand 529 education savings – savings accounts for college tuition providing tax savings –  to private schools for K-12 students as well as for students who are homeschooled.

    State and local tax deductions will be capped at $10,000 and corporate tax rates will be permanently lowered to 20 percent, from 35 percent. The bill doubles the standard deduction.

    The House bill eliminates the alternative minimum tax and permanently lowers tax rates; the Senate version of the bill is expected to double taxes for more than 50 percent of Americans by 2025.

    The House tax bill was approved to move to a joint conference Monday. The conference will consolidate the Senate and House bills into a single bill.

    WASHINGTON- President Donald Trump and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) are claiming that an executive order that the president may sign next week will drive down premiums because it will allow consumers to buy health insurance across state lines, but some analysts doubt if it will help.

    “The executive order in-and-of-itself won’t change anything it will simply-I presume-tell the secretaries of HHS (Health and Human Services) and Labor to move ahead with modifying some regulations,” said Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Edmund Haislmaier.

    “Once they get to that stage really the only regulations they can modify are ones that apply to the group market but there isn’t really anything there for them to change on the individual market,” he told TMN.

    Trump told reporters Wednesday that he would sign next week “a very major executive order where people can go out, cross state lines, do lots of things and buy their own healthcare.”

    The president did not provide details of the expected order.

    Simon Haeder, who is an assistant professor of political science at West Virginia University’s John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy and Politics, said Trump’s plan to sell insurance across state lines is not enough to provide market stability.

    “The notion that allowing insurers to sell insurance across stateliness would magically solve problems like lack of competition or high premiums is ill-founded,” he said.

    “It implies that there is a quick easy fix to the woes of the American health care system. Indeed, it does nothing to address the big issues like quality and costs,” Haeder added.

    Paul, who has been working with the Trump administration to bring about greater market flexibility, said in a statement Wednesday that despite successive failures by the Senate to repeal Obamacare: “The health care debate is not over.”

    “I believe President Trump can legalize on his own the ability of individuals to join a group or health association across state lines to buy insurance,” Paul told MSNBC on Wednesday. “This would bring enormous leverage to bringing down prices. It would also bring protection to individuals who feel left out, hung out to dry, basically.”

    Paul was one three Republican senators who came out against the latest Obamacare repeal measure.

    Republicans could only afford to lose two votes given that the Senate’s 46 Democrats and two independent members opposed the legislation.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said the upper chamber would not vote on the proposal.

    Republicans had hoped to pass the bill before September 30 to take advantage of budget reconciliation authority.

    Reconciliation lowers the threshold for breaking filibuster and would have allowed the legislation to pass with a simple majority as opposed to 60 votes.

    The Senate Budget Committee on Friday released a copy of the FY 2018 budget resolution.

    The budget resolution includes reconciliation instructions for both Obamacare repeal and tax reform legislation but Republicans could jeopardize both initiatives if they are pursued simultaneously.

     

     

    WASHINGTON  A health insurance company said Thursday it would appeal a court’s ruling that the U.S. government isn’t obligated to pay health insurers billions of dollars they claim they’re owed under an Obamacare program.

    In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit here rejected claims by Oregon-based Moda Health and Chicago-based Land of Lincoln Mutual Health Insurance Co. The insurers argued the government owed them hundreds of millions of dollars under former President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act.

    “We are disappointed by today’s decision,” said Robert Gootee, president and CEO of Moda, in a statement hours after the ruling. “If it is upheld on appeal, it will effectively allow the federal government to walk away from its obligation to provide partial reimbursement for the financial losses Moda incurred when we stepped up to provide coverage to more than 100,000 Oregonians under the ACA.

    “We continue to believe, as our trial court did, that the government’s obligation to us is clearly stated in the law and we will continue to pursue our claim on appeal.”

    The appeals court’s decision represents a victory for the Trump administration and conservative Republicans, who argued the payments to the insurance companies would amount to an unlawful government bailout.

    More than 30 insurers have filed similar suits, claiming the government owes them more than $12 billion under the Obamacare “risk corridors” program. That 2014 program stipulated that the federal government collect money from insurers for a fund that had been redistributed to insurers struggling in some health marketplaces.

    The appeals court ruled that the government didn’t have to pay the insurers, under GOP legislation requiring the program not to pay out more than it took in.

    “Congress clearly indicated its intent here,” the court said in the Obamacare ruling. “It asked [the Government Accountability Office] what funding would be available to make risk corridors payments, and it cut off the sole source of funding identified beyond payments in. It did so in each of the three years of the program’s existence.”

     A U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge had ruled in 2017 that Moda has a right to payments totaling about $200 million. But in 2016, another Claims Court judge had ruled against Land of Lincoln, which sought about $76 million.

    The insurers argued they should receive the payments after the health marketplaces suffered poorer performance than expected in their first few years, leaving the government far short of funds to pay the insurers, as mandated by the Obamacare program.

    Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., (Photo ©2018 Doug Christian)

    WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) pointed to comments by former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price as well as a new study as evidence of Republican culpability for increased health care costs.

    “Former Secretary Price’s comments and the new Commonwealth Fund study continue to remove any doubt that Republicans and the Trump administration own any and all increases in health care premiums for American consumers,” Schumer said in a statement on Tuesday. “The American people know the Trump administration is responsible for the repeated sabotage of the health care system and that Republicans in Congress prioritized destroying our current system rather than improving it, which could lead to higher costs and fewer options for quality care.”

    Price wrote of the repeal of the Obamacare individual mandate in a Tuesday Washington Times op-ed: “And there are many, and I’m one of them, who believes that that actually will harm the pool in the exchange market, because you’ll likely have individuals who are younger and healthier not participating in that market, and consequently, that drives up the cost for other folks within that market.”

    The GOP tax reform bill signed into law last year contained a provision that repealed the individual mandate. Under the individual mandate, the government was permitted to levy a fine on people who choose not to purchase health insurance.  The legislation did not repeal the employer mandate.

    Republicans said the individual mandate unfairly penalized people who could not afford to buy health insurance. Democrats said the individual mandate was necessary to maintain enrollment and keep state exchanges solvent.

    The Commonwealth Fund tracking survey released on Tuesday said that since March 2017 the number of uninsured working-age Americans (19-64) has increased 15.5 percent.

    Last year, Republicans made several attempts to repeal Obamacare. Since that time, the Trump administration has taken executive action to undermine the law. The administration has terminated Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments and has promoted the sale of short-term non-comprehensive policies.

    Sen Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Photo by Doug Christian

    WASHINGTON- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday blasted a  Trump Administration plan to permit the sale of short-term health coverage.

    “Since day one, the Trump administration playbook on health care has been to sabotage the marketplaces, jack up costs and premiums for millions of middle-class Americans. “Then – as a supposed life-line to a self-inflicted crisis – offering junk insurance that fails to offer protections for those with pre-existing conditions or coverage of essential health benefits and more,” Schumer said in a statement.

    On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a rule consistent with an October executive order that seeks to increase market competition and expand access to coverage. The rule, if implemented, would allow the purchase of plans that provide coverage “for any period of less than 12 months, rather than the current maximum period of less than three months.”

    HHS Secretary Alex Michael Azar II said Tuesday that the rule would benefit consumers who have been priced out of the market.

    “The status quo is failing too many Americans who face skyrocketing costs and fewer and fewer choices,” Azar said in a statement. The Trump Administration is taking action so individuals and families have access to quality, affordable healthcare that works for them.”

    Critics of the proposal argue that the sale of such plans would further destabilize the insurance market and possibly permit the sale of policies that do not conform with Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates such as the ban on denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions and covering essential health benefits.

    By Andres Del Aguila

    WASHINGTON — Former President Bill Clinton said Monday that the country is “growing up” with its public-health approach to the opioid epidemic.

    “This is the first drug epidemic where we act like a grown-up country,” Clinton said during an opioid summit at Johns Hpkins University in Baltimore. “We are treating it like a public-health problem instead of primarily a criminal-justice problem.”

    The summit comes four days after President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a “public health emergency.”

    “No part of our society — not young or old, rich or poor, urban or rural — has been spared this plague of drug addiction and this horrible, horrible situation that’s taken place with opioids,” Trump said during Thursday’s White House ceremony. “This epidemic is a national health emergency.”

    Clinton attributed the new approach to it being the first drug epidemic that is “killing this many people that had a nonviolent delivery chain.”

    The previous epidemic Clinton was referring to was the proliferation of crack-cocaine in the 1980s, which is when the country took a tough-on-crime approach by implementing mandatory minimums to lock up drug users. The epicenters of the crack-cocaine epidemic were impoverished and minority communities in major cities across the U.S.

    Clinton said the public-health approach will save lives by reducing stigma and providing addicts the care they need.

    But he argued that the public-health response has been “woefully inadequate,” calling for increased cooperation among legislatures, health care providers, employers, law enforcement and insurers.

    Johns Hopkins released a report on the opioid crisis this month that provided recommendations on how to accomplish such cooperation. The report also focused on expanding the accessibility of naloxone, a drug used to rapidly reverse opioid overdoses.

    In addition to former President Blll Clinton, at far left, other participants in the opoid summit included Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. (Dr. Leana Wen/Twitter)

    Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and stakeholders joined Clinton to address the crippling impact of the opioid crisis and discuss solutions during the summit, which the Clinton Foundation co-sponsored.

    Cummings urged Congress to push back against health insurers over-prescribing opioids and to provide more funding to increase access to naloxone.

    “We must press insurance companies to eliminate their bias in favor opioid base pain killers and we must challenge our friend in Congress to expand public health funding.”

    WASHINGTON- The bipartisan Senate bill to stabilize state Obamacare exchanges would cut the deficit by $3.8 billion over the next decade and would have a minimal impact on health care enrollment, according to a report released Wedesday by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

    The CBO scored The Bipartisan Health Care Stabilization Act of 2017, which was introduced last week by Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (H.E.L.P) Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

    The legislation maintains Obamacare’s Cost Sharing Reduction (CSR) payments through 2019 and makes it easier for states to receive waivers from certain provisions codified in the law.

    President Donald Trump earlier this month issued an executive order terminating CSR subsides. The subsides reimburse insurers for providing affordable coverage to low-income families and individuals.

    Trump has wavered in his support of the Alexander-Murray bill.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will the put legislation up for a vote once Trump announces his support for the measure.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has urged McConnell to advance the legislation without delay.

    WASHINGTON – The ACLU of Washington state filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Thursday challenging a nonprofit Catholic healthcare organization’s refusal to cover surgery for a teenage boy because he is transgender.

    The suit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, argues PeaceHealth’s denial of coverage violates state and federal law.

    The ACLU filed the suit on behalf of Cheryl Enstad and her teenage son, Pax, who was born female but identifies as a male. Cheryl Enstad sought coverage while employed as a medical social worker at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Washington, where she worked more than 20 years.

    Pax suffers gender gender dysphoria, a condition codified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and International Classification of Diseases, which the suit says causes “persistent and clinically significant distress caused by incongruence between an individual’s gender identity and that individual’s sex designated at birth.”

    “PeaceHealth’s blanket policy of denying insurance coverage for ‘transgender services,’ regardless of whether those treatments are medically necessary, is discriminatory and harmful to the health of transgender individuals,” ACLU lawyers wrote in the 22-page lawsuit.

    Untreated, gender dysphoria can lead to debilitating anxiety, depression, self-harm and even suicide, the suit said.

    “By categorically excluding all medically necessary ‘transgender services’ or services related to ‘gender change’ the [insurance] Plan has drawn a classification that discriminates based on transgender status and gender nonconformity,” the suit said.

    In a statement issued by the ACLU, Cheryl Enstad said: “We were willing to do whatever it took to get Pax the medical care he needed — as any parent would. When your child is singled out and rejected simply for being themselves, it’s heartbreaking, and it isn’t fair. We’re bringing this lawsuit to ensure no family has to go through what we did.”

    PeaceHealth did not immediately respond to a request for comment. PeaceHealt operates 70 sites in Washington, Oregon and Alaska and provides its estimated 16,000 employees health benefits through a self-funded plan, the PeaceHealth Medical Benefits Plan.

    The ACLU lawsuit comes a day after the Trump administration announced that an anti-discrimination law does not protect transgender workers.

    Earlier this year, President Donald Trump signed a directive reinstating a ban on transgender individuals from serving in the military.