Sunday, July 23, 2017

What Trump can do to cripple ObamaCare


By Nathaniel Weixel - 07/23/17 08:16 PM EDT 217


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What Trump can do to cripple ObamaCare

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If Congress isn’t able to repeal ObamaCare, it’s likely that the Trump administration will follow through on the president's vow to let the law fail.
President Trump regularly asserts that ObamaCare is dead or dying, and the administration has already taken steps to undermine the law while congressional Republicans struggle to enact healthcare legislation.

The administration has broad authority over the implementation of ObamaCare, giving officials the power to limit the law's effectiveness even without congressional involvement.
Here are four ways Trump could cripple the law.
Stop the cost-sharing subsidies.
The biggest thing the Trump administration can do to hurt ObamaCare would be to stop making key subsidy payments to insurers, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSR).
Should the subsidies stop, the insurance markets would likely be thrown into chaos, which could bolster claims from Senate Republicans and the White House that ObamaCare is failing.
Trump has publicly waffled on whether he will continue the payments. At times he’s threatened to withhold them, let the ObamaCare markets collapse and then blame Democrats. At other times, he’s acknowledged the political risks and said the payments would continue.
“We pay hundreds of millions of dollars a month in subsidy that the courts don't even want us to pay,” Trump said during a lunch with Republican senators Wednesday. “And when those payments stop, it stops immediately. It doesn't take two years, three years, one year — it stops immediately.”
The White House made the payments for July, but has not made a commitment beyond this month. Insurers have called the payments critical, saying that without them, they would have to massively increase premiums for 2018 or exit the individual market.
Many insurers blamed uncertainty surrounding the payments for proposed double-digit rate increases for 2018. 
Stop enforcing the individual mandate.
ObamaCare requires everyone in the country to have health insurance, or pay a penalty. Trump can’t unilaterally abolish the mandate, but he can instruct the IRS to stop enforcing it.
Trump hinted at such a move on the first day he took office, issuing a vaguely worded executive order instructing federal agencies to waive or defer any part of ObamaCare that imposed a “fiscal burden” on states.
But despite the threats, the mandate is still the law and people are still supposed to pay a penalty for lacking coverage.
Insurers are worried that if the Trump administration eases up on the mandate or creates more exemptions to it, it would create a “death spiral” in the ObamaCare markets.
The mandate helps bring in healthy enrollees to balance out the sick ones, with the goal of preventing premiums from spiking. If the healthy people don’t buy insurance, only the sickest will, and premiums will skyrocket.
The mixed signals from the administration about the mandate are spooking insurers. They don’t know what to plan for, and that’s showing in their filings.  

“With open enrollment for 2018 only three months away, our members and all Americans need the certainty and security of knowing coverage will be available and affordable for them," the BlueCross BlueShield Association said in a statement.

Pennsylvania’s five insurers, for example, filed premium increase requests averaging nearly 9 percent. But that increase could be hiked up to 36 percent without the individual mandate and the cost-sharing reduction payments.

Stop advertising and outreach.

The Obama administration used each open enrollment period to heavily promote exchange signups. Administration officials would appear in ads online and on TV.
The Trump administration has taken the opposite approach.
Shortly after Trump took office, the Department of Health and Human Services said it withdrew about $5 million of advertising that was intended to encourage people to sign up for insurance through ObamaCare.
HHS has also shortened the annual open enrollment period from three months to six weeks, and the agency churns out anti-ObamaCare charts, studies and graphics on a regular basis.
HHS Secretary Tom Price has also been producing swaths of ads showcasing “victims” of ObamaCare to promote the law’s repeal.
According to an AP report, the administration recently cancelled contracts with two companies that helped facilitate ObamaCare signups in 18 cities.
Advocates worry that without outreach from the government, Americans who need insurance won’t know they can sign up. Lower signups generally mean higher prices, which has been one of the most consistent Republican critiques of the law.
There’s also no indication that the administration is doing anything to convince insurers to stay in any of the “bare” counties across the country without an ObamaCare plan to buy.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under Obama played an active role in enticing insurers back into the markets, but the Trump administration has taken a more hands-off approach.
Use administrative flexibility.
HHS Secretary Tom Price has enormous flexibility within the law to redefine some of its parameters. The powers given to the HHS secretary were meant to help implement ObamaCare, but Price has indicated he’ll use them to dismantle the law.

"Fourteen hundred and forty-two times the ACA said 'the secretary shall' or 'the secretary may,' " Price said during his confirmation hearing in March.
Congressional Republicans have urged Price to use every regulatory lever possible.
“There are a lot of things that can be done with regulations, that people don’t see happening on a daily basis,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told The Hill recently.

For example, Price could change the rules requiring how much insurers would have to cover under the category of essential benefits. While the administration can’t repeal the requirement completely, they can change the definition.
Many congressional Republicans would like to either eliminate the essential health benefit requirement, or at the very least, let states and insurers opt out, so long as they also offer plans that comply with the rules.

If ObamaCare repeal fails in Congress, Republicans will be looking for Price to do the next best thing.

Tags John Barrasso

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Belvidere leaders hope business registration will control crime


Posted: Thu 6:47 PM, Jul 20, 2017  |

Updated: Thu 6:49 PM, Jul 20, 2017

BELVIDERE, Ill. (WIFR) -- The city of Belvidere is keeping a closer eye on local businesses after four massage parlors are shut down for illegal activity.

So much so he opened Vintage 815 last year.

However, he feels some city ordinances are halting the freedom of businesses like his.

"I think it's important for the police and the fire department and the city to know who owns a particular business just for emergency reasons,” says William Hajdys.

After September’s shut down of four Belvidere massage parlors, including the Executive Relaxation Spa, the city is now cracking down on all businesses in the area.

Requiring them to register annually and consent to being shut down for 30 days during a hearing if the city suspects any illegal activity.
"I just have too many questions that aren't answered," says Belvidere Alderman Wendy Frank.

She says she supports punishing businesses for illegal activity, but she thinks requiring business to register with the city may be ineffective.

"On one hand I’m for that, but I don't think this is the right way. I don't think that we have a lot of power in that piece of paper," says Frank.

Hadjys and Frank both say they believe criminals should be stopped, but this is not the way to go.

"It’s almost like he's penalizing people to just take care of 1 or 2 small businesses, and everyone's paying for it," says Hajdys.

Those in support of the ordinance say it will give the city a chance to know what every business is doing and keep better tabs on activities. The ordinance passed City Council 5-4 and should go into affect in 9 days.

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

What, exactly, was the point of all this, Governor?



What, exactly, was the point of all this, Governor?

By Crain's Editorial Board

You want to breathe a sigh of relief, you know you do. Go ahead. After two years of pain, Illinois, you're entitled. Your elected leaders finally have done what responsible adults should have done all along—namely, negotiate a spending plan for the state and pass it into law. The $36 billion fiscal 2018 budget—passed with bipartisan support despite every effort by Gov. Bruce Rauner to kill it—reduces spending from the previous year, raises income taxes a lot and starts paying down $15 billion in overdue bills that piled up while the state spent years being a willful deadbeat.

What a shame legislators weren't willing to compromise until they had to stare down the business end of a junk rating from the nation's credit agencies. Still, the deal got done, though it won't pass any partisan's purity test. It doesn't relieve Illinois residents' property tax burdens. It cuts more deeply into higher education spending than many would like. And on and on.

But the upside is that the budget contains the new revenue that all sides—including Rauner, despite his campaign rhetoric—eventually acknowledged was needed. The individual income tax rate will climb from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, the same level it was under Gov. Pat Quinn, and the corporate rate from 5.25 percent to 7 percent. The hikes combined are expected to raise about $5 billion a year. In the end, even business groups like the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago advocated for plans much like the one that finally passed, reasoning that stability was preferable to mutually assured destruction.

So Illinois spent two years setting itself on fire in order to do . . . what, exactly? Income tax rates now stand at 2014 levels. Pensions are still underfunded. The major "Turnaround Agenda" ideas the governor ran on—"right to work," workers' comp reform and term limits—were kicked to the curb over time like so much roadkill. The state, meanwhile, has been the customer from hell to social service agencies and small businesses alike, demanding services and refusing to pay for them, racking up millions in unnecessary interest charges and forcing private-sector layoffs along the way.

Rauner presided over all of this—and, at key moments in the spectacle, could have prevented it. Not a good look for a man who ran as a business-minded pragmatist, a dealmaker who would put the needs of regular Illinoisans first and reject petty partisan politics.

In the end, Rauner's stance on the budget compromise revealed how political this supposed "non-politician" has actually become. Despite knowing the damage that further ratings downgrades would do to the state, despite understanding the real damage being done to universities, businesses and municipalities by the ongoing standoff, despite recognizing that there is no way cuts and reforms alone will dig Illinois out of its financial hole without new revenue, the governor vetoed the budget legislation when it came to his desk. He did this knowing the chances were very, very good that his veto would be overridden.

There were plenty of political benefits for the governor in this irresponsible move: The guy who said he wasn't a career politician gets to appease his base, which is howling to the point of threatening violence against lawmakers who voted yes on the budget. He also gets a workable budget that will hold the wolves of Wall Street at bay at least for a time. And as an added sweetener, he also gets plenty of partisan fuel for a re-election campaign he once told us he'd be happy to skip if it meant he could get the job done in Springfield for the people of Illinois.

What a waste.

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Monday, June 19, 2017

Hope for an Illinois Budget?

Governor Finally Supports a Budget Plan, but Democrats Remain Spooked

By Rich Miller

One of the hottest rumors making the rounds among Statehouse types last week was that the governor and/or the Illinois Republican Party will be sending “trackers” to Springfield for the upcoming special legislative session.

The rumor, which was everywhere, was that the trackers would follow Democrats around to try to get them to say silly things or record them doing stuff that might not look good to the folks back home.

House staff was even telling Democratic members to watch out for the trackers. And some Democrats were privately demanding that their party respond in kind.

So I went to the upper echelons of Team Rauner and asked whether the rumors were true. I was told in no uncertain terms that they were not.

Nasty rumors thrive in the pea-soup fog of fear and loathing that pervades the Statehouse these days. At one time or another, it seems like everybody has fought everybody and now nobody trusts anybody.

Heck, the far-right Illinois Policy Institute is even running Facebook ads whacking Governor Bruce Rauner and legislative Republicans for their “$5-billion tax hike.” Rauner used to be a large contributor and often sought advice from and palled around with the group’s leader.

The governor’s party last week proposed what appears on the surface to be a fairly reasonable budget plan (pending further review) with some much-needed tax increases. But they couched the unveiling in such overtly partisan and demanding terms that it looks like a trap to many eyes on both sides of the aisle.

“We’re calling a special session so lawmakers can pass the Republicans’ compromise balanced budget plan with reforms,” Rauner tweeted just before he officially called the special session. The governor has obvious comprehension problems with the concept of “compromise.” A plan drafted by one party and then presented as an all-or-nothing demand doesn’t quite fit the traditional definition of the word. Then again, the Democratic majority has also done this on countless occasions.

At least Rauner is finally starting to own something, but if he had just laid his tax-hike cards on the table two-and-a-half years ago, we might not be in this mess today. Senate President John Cullerton has said almost from the beginning that the only way a tax increase will pass is if the governor asks for it and sets the rates.

There’s so little trust right now that some Democrats (and some Republicans, who’ve also been burned by Rauner) still want the governor to specifically say aloud that he will sign a personal-income-tax rate of 4.95 percent and new service taxes on things such as landscaping, which are included in his proposal.

But it’s not just the rumors or the proposals or the press conferences. Other recent events have thoroughly rattled many Democrats. For instance, on June 9 Rauner contributed $1.5 million to the Illinois Republican Party, and the following day the state party passed through $850,000 to the House Republicans’ campaign committee.

To some Democratic eyes, Rauner gave his Republicans big bucks to either vote for tax hikes or stay mum.

It’s also pretty much impossible to pass a tax hike without votes from Chicago Democratic legislators, who don’t have to worry about general-election challenges. Yet the Republican proposal included what seemed to Chicago Democrats to be an obvious poison pill: Vote to raise taxes while simultaneously shortchanging funding for Chicago’s public schools.

And then Illinois Republican Party negative mailers started hitting various House Democratic incumbents.

“Fred Crespo and Mike Madigan may let Illinois collapse,” blared a mailer that landed last week in Representative Crespo’s suburban turf. “Fred Crespo teamed with Mike Madigan to: Block a balanced budget; Bail out Chicago Public Schools; Prevent a property-tax increase; Reject job-creating reforms.”

Rauner recently began airing TV ads attacking Speaker Madigan and his “puppets” for letting the state “crumble” and for wanting to raise taxes “by billions.”

It’s true that the House Democrats do stand alone as the only caucus without a budget plan. It’s not at all inaccurate to warn Illinoisans that the House Dems may “let Illinois collapse,” because they haven’t yet done anything concrete to keep the government from collapsing.

But Democrats are left wondering if Rauner is trying to intimidate them into voting with him or setting them up to take the blame for a plan that wasn’t ever going anywhere. We’ll find out soon.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and

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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Senate Health Care Bill

Fellow Illinoisan,                                                                                                                                

Yesterday, I asked U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price—the person responsible for implementing any changes to our nation’s health care system—if he or anyone at his agency has seen the Senate Republicans’ secret health care repeal bill, which they intend to bring to a vote before the Fourth of July. He admitted that he had not.

That’s because only thirteen male Republican senators know the contents of that bill. It is being crafted behind closed doors and closely guarded by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. The American public has not seen this repeal bill, and there hasn’t been a single hearing on the legislation or any opportunity to offer an amendment. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office hasn’t yet published an analysis of the bill, so we don’t know how many people would lose insurance under the Republican plan, how out-of-pocket costs would increase, or how people with preexisting conditions would fare. 

Remember that, in 2009, when we were working on the Affordable Care Act, the Senate held more than 50 bipartisan public hearings, meetings, and roundtables on the legislation. We debated the bill on the Senate Floor for twenty-five consecutive days, considered hundreds of Republican and Democratic amendments, and accepted more than 170 Republican amendments.

Why are Republicans hiding the details of legislation that will affect every American and one-sixth of the U.S. economy? Why are they moving at a break-neck pace to have us vote on it before the Fourth of July? 

If the Senate Republican repeal bill looks anything like the version passed in the House of Representatives—which throws 23 million people off health care, including one million Illinoisans; once again allows insurance companies to discriminate against people with preexisting conditions; increases out-of-pocket costs for Americans aged 55 to 64 and those in rural communities; and jeopardizes 60,000 Illinois jobs— I understand why they want to do it in secret.

The American people deserve better. They deserve quality health care for themselves and their loved ones. And they deserve for their elected representatives to be honest with them.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Belvidere Animal Shelter Shuts Down


Belvidere Animal Shelter Shuts Down

The new caretakers of the Belvidere shelter said it was in bad condition.

By: Karina Parada

Posted: Jun 16, 2017 06:32 PM CDT

BELVIDERE - A longtime animal shelter in the Stateline area shuts down.
The new caretakers of the Fresh Start Animal Rescue in Belvidere said they had little choice after seeing conditions there. Angels 4 Animals held an open house to show people the poor conditions in which dogs and cats were being kept. The mold in the rooms, ripped walls, and dirty floors were all on display as visitors toured the shelter for the first time. Many of them were left speechless. Cages that were once filled with dogs and cats now sit empty. Fresh Start board members brought on Angels 4 Animals, an animal advocacy group, two months ago to turn around the shelter.
"When I walked in and I saw the animals and the way they were, it's heartbreaking," said Angels 4 Animals Vice President Amy Mehalko. "It was absolutely heartbreaking to come in and see the animals crying and barking."
Mehalko says the deplorable conditions were never known because the previous managers wouldn't allow anyone to see where the animals were kept, not even Fresh Start's own board members. Mehalko says her group tried to save Fresh Start, but couldn't.
"This building was not meant at any time to house animals,"  said Angels4Animals President Kathy Mehalko. "This building was not safe for the animals."
"We're very sorry for having to shut the doors but it was truly a last decision for all of us," said Amy Mehalko. "We tried every avenue that we could."
Many puppies at the shelter became sick due to the conditions. A total of 85 animals lives were lost at Fresh Start last year alone. Mehalko created a binder made up of people who adopted pets at the shelter. Every one of them had a pet with a major health issue. One of those owners was Carrie McCallum. She adopted a puppy named Carl. He died shortly after taking him home.
"After I found out what was going on here, I just had to come back here for Carl," said McCallum.
The animals that lived at Fresh Start have been placed at foster homes or other rescues. Everything inside the building is for sale.

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