States’ ballot measures target abortion rights

Anti-abortion initiatives on the ballot in West Virginia and Alabama this November could lay the foundation for the states to ban or sharply limit legal abortion as change comes to the Supreme Court.

Both ballot measures were in the works before President Donald Trump nominated conservative Judge Brett Kavanaugh to replace the more moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy on the high court. But they take on greater import — and will likely draw far more national attention — given the shifting ideological balance on the court.

“They’re setting the stage for if and when Roe falls,” West Virginia abortion rights activist Margaret Chapman Pomponio said. “The criminal code will immediately be triggered.”

No ballot initiative can outright ban abortion as long as Roe v. Wade remains the law of the land. But the West Virginia and Alabama measures would amend their respective state constitutions to declare that abortion rights are Continue reading “States’ ballot measures target abortion rights”

Health insurance questions complicate Lujan Grisham’s gubernatorial run

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham skated through her primary this week to become New Mexico Democrats’ nominee for governor. But the commanding victory came with questions about her health care record that could complicate the general election against GOP Rep. Steve Pearce.

Lujan Grisham was dogged by questions over the last week about whether she used political clout to keep a New Mexico health program for seriously ill patients open for personal financial gain, even as Obamacare rendered such programs around the country virtually obsolete.

Lujan Grisham, who was New Mexico’s top-ranking health official before she ran for Congress, says she did not do anything untoward. But as Democrats around the country aim to target Republicans over Obamacare repeal and spiking premiums that they blame on GOP moves to undermine the 2010 health law, New Mexico GOP operatives and political experts say health care could be riskier as a campaign issue Continue reading “Health insurance questions complicate Lujan Grisham’s gubernatorial run”

Health insurance questions complicate Lujan Grisham’s gubernatorial run

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham skated through her primary this week to become New Mexico Democrats’ nominee for governor. But the commanding victory came with questions about her health care record that could complicate the general election against GOP Rep. Steve Pearce.

Lujan Grisham was dogged by questions over the last week about whether she used political clout to keep a New Mexico health program for seriously ill patients open for personal financial gain, even as Obamacare rendered such programs around the country virtually obsolete.

Lujan Grisham, who was New Mexico’s top-ranking health official before she ran for Congress, says she did not do anything untoward. But as Democrats around the country aim to target Republicans over Obamacare repeal and spiking premiums that they blame on GOP moves to undermine the 2010 health law, New Mexico GOP operatives and political experts say health care could be riskier as a campaign issue Continue reading “Health insurance questions complicate Lujan Grisham’s gubernatorial run”

Court orders Maine governor to expand Medicaid

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration must file paperwork by next week to the federal government to adopt Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion in Maine, a state Superior Court judge said Monday in a decision rebuking the defiant Republican governor.

Obamacare supporters in April sued the LePage administration to force it to comply with the results of a November ballot initiative ordering the state to expand coverage to tens of thousands of low-income adults under the 2010 health care law. But LePage has insisted he won’t adopt Medicaid expansion unless state lawmakers meet his conditions for funding the program.

Under the Maine ballot initiative, roughly 80,000 low-income adults are supposed to qualify for Medicaid benefits starting July 2. The LePage administration ignored an early April deadline to formally notify the federal government it would expand, prompting the lawsuit from advocates who spearheaded the ballot measure.

State officials disputed the date by which they had Continue reading “Court orders Maine governor to expand Medicaid”

Lujan Grisham misstated her income in 2013 financial disclosures

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham earned more from her role as co-owner of the company that runs New Mexico’s high-risk insurance program than she stated on her congressional financial disclosure forms for 2013, according to a review of the report and newly released tax returns.

In annual financial disclosures required for members of Congress, Lujan Grisham initially reported receiving between $50,001 and $100,000 in dividends in 2013 from the Delta Consulting Group, which she co-founded in 2008 with a political ally who went on to get elected to the New Mexico Legislature. But her tax returns show she earned nearly $138,000 in so-called “passive income” from the company that year.

A spokesperson for her office said the discrepancy was “an honest mistake” and a letter was sent to the House Clerk to amend the 2013 financial disclosure.

Lujan Grisham’s tax returns, released just days before she faces two Democratic opponents in Continue reading “Lujan Grisham misstated her income in 2013 financial disclosures”

Grisham campaign says her firm didn’t make millions from high-risk insurance pool

Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is defending her support of a New Mexico high-risk insurance program for the seriously ill after POLITICO reported that a company the New Mexico Democrat co-founded with a political ally received millions of dollars to run the program, even as most states phased out such efforts after Obamacare became a better, cheaper option for most people.

The small business co-founded by Grisham, who is running for governor, “did not make millions of dollars or anything close to that,” Grisham’s campaign manager Dominic Gabello said in a statement issued late Thursday that also attacked her political opponents. POLITICO found that the company, the Delta Consulting Group, was paid more than $2 million in fees to run the program between 2014 and 2017, according to contracts obtained through a public records request.

Grisham established the company in 2008 with Debbie Armstrong, who was elected to the New Mexico Continue reading “Grisham campaign says her firm didn’t make millions from high-risk insurance pool”

New Mexico governor candidate profited from high-risk insurance plans

U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the leading Democratic candidate for governor in New Mexico, profited from the state’s use of a high-priced health-insurance program for seriously ill patients, even after Obamacare made such programs virtually obsolete.

As most states were shuttering their subsidized health-insurance programs for people with pre-existing conditions because they could get coverage through Obamacare, a firm co-founded by Grisham and a close political ally received millions of dollars to run New Mexico’s program, even as she served in Congress.

The state’s high risk pool is still open even though its premiums are higher on average than Obamacare – 10 percent higher this year — and while all but nine of the 35 states that once had such programs either shut them down or cut off new enrollment. It also continued despite efforts by New Mexico Republicans to curtail the program.

Lujan Grisham, who is facing two Continue reading “New Mexico governor candidate profited from high-risk insurance plans”

Virginia poised to expand Medicaid

The Virginia Senate on Wednesday approved Medicaid expansion for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults, putting the state on the verge of becoming just the second to approve the major Obamacare program in the Trump era.

Once Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signs the bill, a top priority of his new administration, Virginia will become the 33rd state to adopt the Obamacare program, which is expected to cover as many as 400,000 people.

Northam was able to make inroads with statehouse Republicans — who had long rebuffed his Democratic predecessor Terry McAuliffe‘s expansion efforts — after the GOP suffered major electoral losses in November that nearly flipped control of one legislative chamber to Democrats.

Trump administration officials and conservative activists had tried to derail the Virginia plan. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney in March urged the state to reject Medicaid expansion, and White House health care aide Brian Blase joined Continue reading “Virginia poised to expand Medicaid”

Vermont becomes first state to permit drug imports from Canada

Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott Wednesday signed legislation making his state the first to legalize importing prescription drugs from Canada, an idea President Donald Trump’s top health officials oppose that’s also drawn fierce opposition from the pharmaceutical industry.

A spokeswoman for Scott said he signed the bill Wednesday morning. The measure had overwhelming support in the Democratic-controlled legislature and is one of the most aggressive attempts by a state to tackle rising drug prices that critics say are crippling state finances.

Its enactment also puts the Trump administration in a bind after the rollout of a highly anticipated plan for tackling rising drug costs. HHS still has to certify Vermont’s program.

“Trump is trumpeting his desire to do something about high-cost drugs,” said Democratic state Sen. Claire Ayer, one of the bill sponsors. “I’m hoping that they’ll see it as an opportunity for him to say that he’s done something Continue reading “Vermont becomes first state to permit drug imports from Canada”

Trump challenge to Native Americans’ health splits HHS, alarms Hill GOP

HHS leaders want states to settle the contentious question of whether Native Americans should get jobs in order to keep their health care — a move that likely won’t resolve the underlying challenge to tribal sovereignty and was sparked by an unusual split between the agency’s politically appointed administrators and legal counsel.

The agency’s position that tribes are a racial group and not separate governments — a determination by Trump administration lawyers that POLITICO first detailed last month — has raised concerns in Congress and alarmed the tribes, who say it reverses centuries of protections enshrined in the Constitution and upheld by the Supreme Court.

HHS Secretary Alex Azar, the agency’s former general counsel, told tribal leaders at a meeting Thursday that state Medicaid administrators will be able to work with tribal governments on designing any employment requirements.

“This vision is best implemented locally, where governments know the needs of Continue reading “Trump challenge to Native Americans’ health splits HHS, alarms Hill GOP”

Red states find Trump an unpredictable ally on Medicaid

Conservatives state lawmakers aren’t getting everything they want from the Trump administration as they try to overhaul Medicaid.

Federal officials on Monday denied Kansas’ request to implement the first-ever lifetime limits on Medicaid coverage, delivering a reality check with larger implications for how far the GOP can go trimming the health program for the poor.

It marked the first time the Trump administration has categorically denied Medicaid cuts pushed by a red state. The decision — delivered in a brief letter from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services without elaboration — dismayed some conservatives and frustrated state lawmakers, who say it’s virtually impossible to know what will get approved without an onerous back-and-forth with federal officials.

“They won’t tell us what they will or won’t approve until we apply. We’re throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing what sticks,” said Utah state Sen. Daniel Hemmert, whose state has asked Continue reading “Red states find Trump an unpredictable ally on Medicaid”

Iowa governor signs most restrictive abortion ban in country

Iowa Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds on Friday signed into law the most restrictive abortion legislation in the country, prohibiting the procedure once a fetal heartbeat is detected, often at six weeks.

The new law is almost certain to prompt court challenges. Abortion opponents emboldened by the prospect of President Donald Trump further shaping the ideological direction of the Supreme Court are wagering the Iowa ban or similar measures could provide a test case for overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Reynolds, who is running for reelection and has referred to abortion in the past as murder, signed the law just days after it was approved by Iowa’s GOP-dominated state Legislature. Iowa had already banned most abortions after 20 weeks. Eighteen states ban abortion at that point, but efforts to set earlier restrictions haven’t survived legal challenges.

“I understand and anticipate that this will Continue reading “Iowa governor signs most restrictive abortion ban in country”

Tom Price walks back remarks on mandate repeal

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price Wednesday walked back comments about how Republican efforts to undo Obamacare’s individual mandate would increase costs for people who remain insured, saying that his remarks were reported out of context.

“Repealing the individual mandate was exactly the right thing to do. Forcing Americans to buy something they don’t want undermines individual liberty as well as free markets,” Price said in a statement. “The only fair and effective way to bring down healthcare costs is to allow markets to create more choices for consumers and small businesses.”

Price told the World Health Care Congress on Tuesday that repealing the Obamacare mandate as part of the GOP’s tax overhaul will harm insurance markets because younger and healthier people would be likelier to not buy coverage, raising prices for others who do.

Obamacare supporters immediately pounced on the remarks, which marked a significant break Continue reading “Tom Price walks back remarks on mandate repeal”

Maine governor sued for defying Medicaid expansion ballot measure

Obamacare supporters are suing Maine Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to force him to expand Medicaid, accusing the Republican of ignoring a ballot initiative that ordered the state to join the coverage program.

LePage has refused to expand Medicaid nearly six months after 59 percent of the state’s voters approved it in a first-of-its-kind ballot measure. He has insisted he won’t adopt Medicaid expansion unless state lawmakers meet his conditions for funding the program.

“With the goal of getting health care to people as soon as possible, we decided we couldn’t wait any longer,” said Robyn Merrill of Maine Equal Justice Partners, one of the advocacy groups behind the lawsuit.

The lawsuit against LePage‘s administration was expected after the Maine Legislature’s recent session ended without a funding agreement. A LePage spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

LePage, now in his last year in office, previously vetoed Medicaid expansion Continue reading “Maine governor sued for defying Medicaid expansion ballot measure”

Trump officials tell Idaho it can’t dump Obamacare

The Trump administration today threw cold water on Idaho’s plan to ignore key Obamacare requirements, telling the red state that it must follow the health care law.

Idaho was moving to let insurers offer plans that don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s robust coverage rules — including protections for pre-existing conditions and mandated benefits — in a bid to expand the availability of cheaper health plans. The Idaho plan has sparked considerable interest from other red states that have long opposed Obamacare.

But Trump administration health officials, who’ve worked to unwind Obamacare through regulation and have encouraged states to pursue alternative coverage options, said that they ultimately had to make sure the law is enforced while it’s on the books.

“CMS is committed to working with states to give them as much flexibility as permissible under the law to provide their citizens the best possible access to healthcare. However, the Continue reading “Trump officials tell Idaho it can’t dump Obamacare”

Scott Walker wants to save Obamacare in Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, one of the nation’s most militantly anti-Obamacare governors, is making strengthening the health care law a key plank of his reelection platform as Republicans fret over potential losses in November.

Walker wants to prop up his Obamacare market with a $200 million program that would compensate health insurers for high-cost patients so they don’t hike premiums for everyone. He also would enshrine Obamacare protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

It’s a startling turnabout for a chief executive who has repeatedly called for repealing and replacing the health law. But it could prove smart politics in a swing state where a Democrat recently flipped a seat in a state Senate district that Donald Trump carried by 17 points — a result Walker called a “wake-up call” for state Republicans.

Walker sought to get out in front of a potential issue by blaming Washington — and, of course, Obamacare Continue reading “Scott Walker wants to save Obamacare in Wisconsin”

How one conservative state is flouting Obamacare

Idaho is going rogue on Obamacare.

The Republican-led state has a maverick plan to flout the federal health care law, letting insurers sell plans that don’t meet Obamacare coverage rules and patient protections. And the brazen move — Gov. Butch Otter is plowing ahead on his own, without seeking federal waivers or permission — poses a test for the Trump administration.

Other conservative states see Idaho’s gambit as a blueprint for shaking off Obamacare’s strict regulations. But legal experts and consumer advocates who back the Affordable Care Act say it won’t be so easy. They expect costly and time-consuming lawsuits over health insurance and state directives that directly conflict with federal law.

"It sure seems open-and-shut to me," said Jay Angoff, a former Obama administration health official and attorney who has challenged other state efforts to undercut the 2010 law.

The state’s largest insurer, Blue Cross of Idaho, announced Wednesday Continue reading “How one conservative state is flouting Obamacare”

Trump administration OKs Medicaid rollback in Kentucky

The Trump administration has approved an overhaul of Medicaid in Kentucky that for the first time will require some low-income people to work to keep their health coverage, just one day after issuing guidance making it easier for states to seek work requirements.

The administration’s approval represents a seismic philosophical shift for Medicaid, which was created more than 50 years ago to cover the poor. The Kentucky proposal developed by Republican Gov. Matt Bevin will force some poor adults to work approximately 20 hours per week to retain their benefits.

At the same time, the Trump administration greenlighted a host of other conservative policies, including new mandated payments from enrollees and coverage lockouts, which will significantly roll back coverage protections in Kentucky’s Medicaid program. Those changes will result in about 95,000 enrollees being forced off the program, Kentucky estimates.

“Kentucky is leading the nation in this reform," Bevin said at Continue reading “Trump administration OKs Medicaid rollback in Kentucky”

Trump paves the way for states to impose Medicaid work requirements

The Trump administration took a major step Thursday to let states establish the first-ever work requirements for Medicaid recipients.

The policy guidance is the most concrete development yet toward achieving goal of tying Medicaid benefits to employment — a long-time conservative goal that has never been permitted since the health care entitlement program for the poor was created 52 years ago.

CMS in its letter to state Medicaid directors outlined the criteria it would use to approve state employment proposals that would require able-bodied, working-age Medicaid enrollees to get a job or participate in a related activity like job training for at least 20 hours a week in order to keep their health coverage. CMS Administrator Seema Verma has made it clear from the moment she took office last year that the Trump administration will approve such proposals, but requests from nearly a dozen conservative states have stalled with federal Continue reading “Trump paves the way for states to impose Medicaid work requirements”

Medicaid expansion fight looms after Virginia statehouse drawing

A showdown over Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion pitting Republican lawmakers against Virginia’s newly elected governor is almost certain following the GOP victory in a drawing to decide control of the state’s House of Delegates.

The expected fight in a purple state demonstrates the law’s staying power even as a Republican president and Congress work to undo it.

Gov.-elect Ralph Northam campaigned heavily on expanding the state’s Medicaid program and has made it a top priority. But Democrats’ inability to gain a 50-50 split in the state’s lower legislative chamber on Thursday means they will need Republican defectors to back a plan, as well as figure out how to pay for its share of costs. Republicans also maintain a narrow 21-19 majority in the state Senate.

“I think there is a real possibility, because you’re talking about one or two people in each House,” University of Virginia politics expert Larry Sabato Continue reading “Medicaid expansion fight looms after Virginia statehouse drawing”