Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Last Call For Trumpcare Returns

Trumpcare is coming whether you want it or not, and the latest broadside to try to sink the Affordable Care Act is turning cheap, garbage temporary health insurance plans into year-long plans that will happily wreck the market.

It’s another day and the Trump administration is trying to stick another knife in the Affordable Care Act. This time it comes courtesy of a proposed expansion in the length of time a household can receive a lower cost, short-term health-coverage plan that does not meet the Affordable Health Care’s standards for insurance.

Under the new proposal, households can purchase the more limited plan for a year — up from three months.

If this proposal goes through — and the chances are very high that this regulatory change will ultimately be finalized — it could cause enormous damage to the Affordable Care Act, while at the same time not do a thing to help people with the increasingly high cost of health insurance.

That’s not what the Trump administration says, of course. Officials claim people will find it easier to afford health insurance under the new rules. As Seema Verma, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, tweeted out this morning: 

The short-term plans are currently limited to three months of use. The ACA originally intended them as stop-gap coverage — if, say, someone is in-between jobs or transitioning between work and school. The ostensible goal of lengthening that period is to extend coverage to people who are currently not covered by the ACA — because they cannot afford the premiums — by creating longer-term cheap insurance options.

It’s true that these plans will be cheaper than typical insurance. But there is a reason for that. As Sabrina Corlette, senior research fellow at Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms put it to me Tuesday: “The first thing for people to know is that these plans are not health insurance.”

As Corlette explained, under the ACA, insurance companies have a lot more leeway with the short-term plans. They can screen people for preexisting conditions — and either charge them more or refuse to offer them a policy entirely. The short-term plans don’t need to offer coverage for things such as prescription drug coverage, maternity care and mental-health services. They can impose an annual or overall lifetime limit on how much they will cover.

All of these things are prohibited for ordinary plans under the ACA. And so, by trying to expand the period the shorter-term plans can be utilized by consumers (by the way, the administration is also contemplating allowing people to renew the plans), the administration is essentially setting up a parallel system to the ACA, and one that allows insurance companies to offer much skimpier plans in the way of benefits.

In other words, by turning the temp plans into 12 month plans, Trumpcare will flood the market with cheap plans that people will buy thinking Trump "saved them money".  The damage will be catastrophic and it almost certainly means that insurance companies will turn the market of good plans into a dumpster fire.

Between this and the death of the individual mandate, the ACA is pretty much done.

Meanwhile, In The Rest Of The World

The US was largely absent from the 2018 Munich Security Conference over the weekend, after all Donald Trump had to play golf and sent National Security Adviser HR McMaster in his stead, but as Judy Dempsey of Carnegie Europe points out, lack of US leadership right now is leaving a world facing utter turmoil with nobody steering the boat.  Dempsey identifies five issues that the world has yet to deal with:

First, North Korea. During a Congressional debate on U.S. foreign policy, the American delegation saw North Korea as its main threat. Senator James E. Risch, who is a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, said that if Trump uses force in North Korea, it will be of “biblical proportions,” not a “bloody nose.” Unfortunately, Risch had to leave the panel early so he couldn’t take questions. 
The bipartisan panel was at a complete loss about how to deal with North Korea on the diplomatic level. They did not rule out the use of force, but they did not endorse regime change, having seen the consequences of the latter in Iraq and Libya. They did call on China to do more, such as impose a stricter sanctions regime and in some way apply pressure on North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. It would have been very helpful during the question and answer session to really engage with Fu Ying, the chairwoman of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the National People’s Congress, instead of listening to her anodyne answer. 
Second, NATO. There were plenty of reassurances by American diplomats about Washington’s commitment to the transatlantic alliance. “Continuity” was the word they kept using. There was no cajoling about the Europeans having to spend more on defense or take on more of the burden sharing. 
Yet the alliance is in bad shape. One of its leading members, Turkey, is attacking Syria, is locking up journalists, judges and civil servants, and is running roughshod over the rule of law. There’s hardly a whimper about this from NATO, which professes to be an alliance based on values and democracy. 
And NATO, as a military and political organization, has to cope with a myriad of issues, from cybersecurity to its new training role in Iraq, which some diplomats fear might mutate into a combat mission. This is what happened in Afghanistan when the original stabilization mission turned into a full-fledged military operation. 
Third, Russia’s presence in Munich was pathetic. The speech by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov verged on bitterness and paranoia. There wasn’t one spark or one foreign policy idea raised by Lavrov. Instead, his speech revealed the immense chasm between Russia and the United States. This was pretty obvious not only by the language Lavrov used but by the speech given later by H.R. McMaster, the U.S. National Security Adviser. He told the conference that there was “incontrovertible” evidence of Russia’s interfering in the U.S. presidential election
Fourth, Ukraine. Whatever the reason, the countries (France, Germany, Russia, and Ukraine) that forged the 2015 Minsk accord aimed at ending the fighting in eastern Ukraine didn’t even convene in Munich to discuss how, if at all, to take Minsk II further. If anything, there was a depressing sense of drift when it came to trying to resolve this conflict that has displaced or affected nearly two million people, not to mention the continuing skirmishes in the Donbas region. 
The speech by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko didn’t help matters, either. His unwillingness to tackle corruption and strengthen the rule of law has been a feature of his presidency over the past few years. Things will not improve in the run-up to next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. And blaming Russia is no substitute for Kiev delaying fundamental reforms.

Fifth, with the Middle East being torn to bits by ambitions led by Iran and Saudi Arabia—and Turkish, Russian, and Qatari interference all playing their own insidious roles—there was no meeting of minds during the high-level discussion on the region.

The main protagonists—Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iran—weren’t part of the panel debate (which probably wouldn’t have taken place had the organizers insisted on including these countries). Instead, there were separate statements made by the three regional actors. Each had their own agenda. Each openly showed their disdain for each other. 
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the conference that Israel was ready to take action against Iran. Brandishing a piece of an Iranian drone that was shot down in Israeli airspace last week, Netanyahu looked directly at the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was in the audience, and asked him: “Mr. Zarif, do you recognize this? You should. It’s yours. You can take a message back to the tyrants of Tehran: Do not test Israel’s resolve.” Netanyahu was right to raise all of Iran’s human rights violations. But the audience was in no mood to listen given the way he delivered his speech. 
Later, in his statement, Zarif, who is rarely criticized by Europe’s top diplomats for Iran’s abuse of human rights and support of terrorist movements, said: “What has happened in the past several days is the so-called invincibility [of Israel] has crumbled.” He was referring to the recent downing of an Israeli F-16 jet in Syria. Separately, in an interview with NBC News, Zarif warned that if Israel fulfilled its threat to attack Iran, that “they will see the response.” No shortage of threats there.

There are a huge number of serious foreign policy issues right now, and the Trump regime is wholly and completely unequipped to handle any of them, let alone all of them at once.  We've ceded North Korea to the Chinese, Russia and Ukraine to Moscow, NATO to the Germans, and the Middle East to the Saudis and Israel.

Meanwhile, the "leader of the free world" is too busy golfing and tweeting...and gaslighting the world on how the Russians somehow didn't help him in 2016.

It's Mueller Time, Con't

The Mueller investigation continues to build the case against Trump, Russia, and his associates, and Mueller is starting to close in on Trump's inner circle.  The biggest target close to Trump is his shifty son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who's most likely neck deep in the Russian game as well as the international money laundering angle and has been for years.  Lo and behold, that's exactly who Mueller is zeroing in on these days.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's interest in Jared Kushner has expanded beyond his contacts with Russia and now includes his efforts to secure financing for his company from foreign investors during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the inquiry. 
This is the first indication that Mueller is exploring Kushner's discussions with potential non-Russian foreign investors, including in China
US officials briefed on the probe had told CNN in May that points of focus related to Kushner, the White House senior adviser and son-in-law of President Donald Trump, included the Trump campaign's 2016 data analytics operation, his relationship with former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and Kushner's own contacts with Russians. 
Mueller's investigators have been asking questions, including during interviews in January and February, about Kushner's conversations during the transition to shore up financing for 666 Fifth Avenue, a Kushner Companies-backed New York City office building reeling from financial troubles, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation. 
It's not clear what's behind Mueller's specific interest in the financing discussions. Mueller's team has not contacted Kushner Companies for information or requested interviews with its executives, according to a person familiar with the matter. 
During the presidential transition, Kushner was a lead contact for foreign governments, speaking to "over fifty contacts with people from over fifteen countries," according to a statement he gave to congressional investigators. 
Before joining the administration, Kushner was also working to divest his interests in Kushner Companies, the family company founded by his father. In early 2017, Kushner also divested from the 666 Fifth Avenue property that his family's company purchased in 2007 for $1.8 billion. The interests were sold to a family trust that Kushner does not benefit from, a spokesperson said at the time. 

Trump's money laundering operation is global.  China, Russia, the Middle East, South America, where there's a Trump property, there's Kushner, playing fast and loose with the rules.  If Mueller's looking at Kushner and non-Russian money laundering, then the door's wide open on what he can find.

And somehow, Kushner still has a temporary security clearance.  Still.

With Mueller now taking a look at Kushner, the probe has now reached Trump's family. And if anyone knows where all the bodies are buried in the Trump Organization, it's Jared Kushner.

Meanwhile this morning, another indictment has dropped.

Special counsel Robert Mueller has filed a charge against a lawyer for lying to investigators about his interaction with former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates in September 2016. 
Alex Van der Zwaan is expected to plead guilty Tuesday afternoon. 
He is also accused of lying about the failure to turn over an email communication to the special counsel's office. He was speaking with investigators about his work with Skadden Arps in 2012 when the firm did work for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice to prepare a report on the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko. 
Van der Zwaan has a plea hearing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at US District Court in Washington, DC.

This looks like part of the Rick Gates plea deal that we expect later this week, as well at yet another connection to the Russian nationals who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016.

Stay tuned.


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