Newswire: Trump vows complete end of Obamacare law despite pandemic

By Devlin Barrett, The Washington Post
President Trump said last Wednesday he will continue trying to toss out all of the Affordable Care Act, even as some in his administration, including Attorney General William P. Barr, have privately argued parts of the law should be preserved amid a pandemic.
“We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” Trump told reporters Wednesday, the last day for his administration to change its position in a Supreme Court case challenging the law. “Obamacare, we run it really well. . . . But running it great, it’s still lousy health care.”
While the president has said he will preserve some of the Affordable Care Act’s most popular provisions, including guaranteed coverage for preexisting medical conditions, he has not offered a plan to do so, and his administration’s legal position seeks to end all parts of the law, including those provisions.
Democrats, who view the fight over the Affordable Care Act as a winning election issue for them, denounced the president’s decision.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that “the President’s insistence on doubling down on his senseless and cruel argument in court to destroy the ACA and every last one of its benefits and protections is unconscionable, particularly in the middle of a pandemic.”
Trump’s declaration caps months of debate within his administration about the best course of action, in which the stakes have only become greater now that the nation’s health-care system is struggling to deal with the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 80,000 Americans.
On Monday, Barr attended a meeting of senior officials in which he argued the administration should temper its opposition to Obamacare, leaving some parts of the law intact, according to people familiar with the discussion, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the conversation was private.
The case before the court was brought by a group of Republican states, and as part of that case, the Trump administration is seeking to invalidate the entire Affordable Care Act, which passed in 2010 and became one of President Barack Obama’s most significant legislative victories.
Barr and others in the administration have argued that killing Obamacare completely could be politically damaging to Republicans in an election year, particularly when there is a national health crisis. In two previous case, the Supreme Court upheld the law, but if the high court were to strike it down, millions of people could find themselves without affordable health care.
The high court plans to hear arguments in the case later this year, and a decision may not come until 2021, well after the November election.
The latest ACA suit was organized by Republican attorneys general in Texas and other states. When the Trump administration declined to defend the law, a coalition of Democratic-led states entered.
The case began after the Republican-led Congress in 2017, unable to secure the votes to abolish the law, reduced to zero the penalty for a person not buying health insurance. Lawyers for the state of Texas argued that in doing so, Congress had removed the essential tax element that the Supreme Court had previously ruled made the program constitutional.
A district judge in Texas agreed and said the entire law must fall. Eventually the Trump administration agreed with that assessment.

Newswire : Black leaders call out big insurance over surprise medical billing

By Hazel Trice Edney

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, CEO -NNPA

(TriceEdneyWire.com) – Prominent figures in the African-American community are calling on Congress to rein in large insurance companies as lawmakers look to address an increasingly urgent problem in the health care market that falls especially hard on working families, including African-Americans.
The problem is known as surprise medical billing, a situation that occurs when a patient is hospitalized and then receives a hefty bill from a doctor who turns out to be outside of his or her insurer’s network.
The practice is costing American patients tens of millions of dollars in unforeseen medical fees, at a time when many are already burdened by higher premiums and rising co-payments. Nearly half of Americans say they have avoided going to the doctor despite being sick or injured for financial reasons.
Eliminating surprise billing has long been a priority for leaders of both parties. But it is now emerging as a key issue in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, as candidates and other leading Democrats make the case around the country for broader health care reform. Former Vice President Joe Biden invoked the need to end surprise billing in his victory speech on Super Tuesday.
As the issue comes into greater focus, prominent African-American leaders are urging candidates and lawmakers to find a solution that holds health insurers accountable for limited coverage networks and inadequate access to health insurance for minority communities – two forces, they say, that have helped create the surprise billing problem.
Addressing a group of Black ministers in South Carolina recently, Reverend Al Sharpton said solving health care issues disproportionately impacting communities of color must be atop the progressive agenda. Fixing the problem of surprise billing, Sharpton said, needs to go hand in hand with better protection of uninsured and underinsured populations.
Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, an influential civil rights organization with roots in Harlem and chapters throughout the country, warned about a proposed bill in Congress that would potentially deepen the problem of costs being passed onto patients by giving insurers even more control over the prices they pay out-of-network doctors working in emergency hospital settings.
He said the proposed bill must be defeated because it fails to protect the underinsured and the uninsured. Dealing these specific policies that affect the disadvantaged is what is necessary in the 2020 election, Sharpton said in a recent speech at the Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, S.C., according to the Post and Courier.
Sharpton referred to a current bill before Congress aimed at addressing a practice known as “surprise billing,” which leaves patients on the hook for medical expenses even if they have insurance. The legislation needs to be defeated and replaced with something that would protect the underinsured and those with no insurance at all, he said,
describing it as one of those “issues that’s for the good of the people.”
Dr. Benjamin Chavis, President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and former Executive Director of the NAACP, directed even sharper criticism at insurance companies. In a piece published by Black Press USA, Chavis  derided insurance executives for putting profits above patients.
“This outrageous situation benefits one group and one group alone: powerful insurance executives, who have managed to get off the financial hook for such bills, even as insurers shrink insurance coverage networks to wring more and more profits out of the system,” Chavis wrote.
Chavis expressed strong opposition to any legislation that would give insurers more control over health care prices.
Experts say surprise medical billing is most common after emergency treatment on nonsurgical hospital visits, when doctors and specialists often work together in teams to provide the care patients need. For example, in the case of an emergency procedure, a patient’s primary surgeon might be in her insurance network, but other clinicians who assist the surgeon, such as the anesthesiologist, might be out of network. In certain instances, the patients are left to foot the bill for out-of-network services.
Doctors have said that years of harmful cost-cutting measures taken by insurers are to blame. Many patients have been unwittingly pushed into highly restricted and increasingly narrow coverage networks, they say, leaving them with unanticipated costs insurers refuse to cover in full or at all. Doctors say insurance companies should be required to pay fair out-of-network rates, as determined by an independent arbitrator, for emergency care.
Insurers vehemently oppose that approach, instead calling for new rules that would enable them
to limit how much they pay for emergency care provided by physicians who do not contract with them. They favor a system in which they would automatically pay median in-network rates for out-of-network services.
The dispute between doctors and insurers reached a boiling point last year, when it appeared that insurers were going to get their way. A bill modeled on legislation passed in California in 2016 would have put in place the type of benchmarking system insurance companies want.
Doctors and hospitals, for their part, raised concerns about ceding too much power to insurers to control rates. If only required to pay median in-network rates for out-of-network emergency services, the doctors and hospitals said, insurers could artificially drive down those rates by further restricting coverage networks.
Apparently, those concerns were shared by at least some members of Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is reported to have expressed serious concerns in private, saying “we are not going to give a handout to big insurance companies.” The bill was ultimately defeated.
Now, as Congress returns to the issue early into the 2020 legislative session, it appears as though the debate could be layered into a larger conversation among progressives about the future of the nation’s health care system.
The insistence of influential Black leaders that surprise bills are a symptom of a coverage accessibility problem for communities of color seems to open up a new front for Democrats looking to curtail the power of major insurance companies.

Newswire: Democrats unveil articles of impeachment against Trump

By Lisa Mascaro and Mary Clarke Jalonick, Associated Press

From left House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee Maxine Waters, D-Calif., Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal and Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff, D-Calif., unveil articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)


WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats announced two articles of impeachment Tuesday against President Donald Trump — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — pushing toward historic votes over charges he corrupted the U.S. election process and endangered national security.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, flanked by the chairmen of the impeachment inquiry committees, stood at the Capitol in what she called a “solemn act.” Voting is expected in a matter of days in the Judiciary Committee and by Christmas in the full House.
“He endangers our democracy, he endangers our national security,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the Judiciary chairman announcing the charges before a portrait of George Washington. “Our next election is at risk… That is why we must act now.”
The charges unveiled Tuesday stem from Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals as he withheld aid to the country.
Trump tweeted ahead of the announcement that impeaching a president with a record like his would be “sheer Political Madness!”
The outcome, though, appears increasingly set as the House prepares for voting, as it has only three times in history against a U.S. president.
n drafting the articles of impeachment, Pelosi is facing a legal and political challenge of balancing the views of her majority while hitting the Constitution’s bar of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Some liberal lawmakers wanted more expansive charges encompassing the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Centrist Democrats preferred to keep the impeachment articles more focused on Trump’s actions toward Ukraine. House Democrats have announced two articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump, meanwhile, insisted he did “NOTHING” wrong and that impeaching a president with a record like his would be “sheer Political Madness!”
U.S. Supreme Court Chief Judge John Roberts would preside over any impeachment trial, which would be held every day except Sunday until senators vote to convict or acquit President Trump of the articles.
McConnell said the Senate would hear the case House officials present before deciding whether to call witnesses, the Examiner reports.
“Or, it could decide that they’ve heard enough and they believe they know what would happen and move to vote on the two articles of impeachment,” the majority leader said.
Fifty-one Senate votes would be required to acquit Trump — and that would most likely happen, McConnell told reporters.
A two-thirds majority vote of the 100-member Senate is necessary for conviction and for removing Trump from office. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.
“I said I would be totally surprised if there were 67 senators to remove the president,” McConnell said, “and that remains my view.”