Finding the Fight: the Trump Challenges as They are Today

One of the biggest challenges in writing about the new administration is the rapid pace at which everything changes. No sooner is the research wrapped than it becomes dated and irrelevant. The past few weeks have brought a new reality and the events that define that reality are already set in stone. Depending on which side your opinions fall, you may or may not agree with your neighbor, your husband or even the Twitter handles you follow. Here are a few things that aren’t likely to fade into the background anytime soon.

The incredulous insistence of the president regarding wiretapping has taken on new meaning. After weeks of going back and forth about whether he has any kind of secretly recorded media of his meetings or conversations, he finally pulls back and says he has nothing. By my count, he’s not only wrongly accused the previous president of wiretapping him, but he also wrongly accused himself of wiretapping…himself.

Healthcare

The new healthcare plans have been hashed out, argued, debated and picked apart by every media outlet in the country over the past 48 hours. Keep in mind, for all the bickering and tweeting and debating, this bill is not likely to pass as there are at least five Republicans who’ve been vocal about the shortcomings of the bill. If just two Republicans opt to vote the bill down, it quickly becomes a has-been and a waste of time. Some have laughed at what’s included in this latest version. Here are a few of the biggest obstacles:

Medicare’s going to take a hit. They can dance around it and sugar coat it, but most are saying a hit between 15 and 20 percent reduction of services is how it shakes out. As the bill stands now, it’s a kick in the teeth to those who depend on these programs. AARP estimates 17 million older and/or poverty-stricken Americans will lose with this bill if it’s passed as-is. Just like the House bill a few weeks ago, many groups have come out against this latest effort, including many nursing and physician organizations.

As it stands (and the figures differ somewhat, though not substantially) around 500,000 veterans will lose Medicaid coverage.

Some media outlets are now saying the Senate decided at the last minute to include penalties, similar to the Obama tax, on those who have no coverage at all.

The Senate bill will also likely be to updated to reflect a six month suspension from coverage if even one insurance premium is not paid on time. That’s not been cemented, but there’s no doubt it’s going to be heated if it comes full circle.

Jobs

At the end of November, 2016, Carrier announced it had reached an agreement, courtesy of President-elect Trump’s negotiations, to keep nearly 1,000 jobs in Indianapolis, IN. One worker told Fortune, “I just couldn’t believe that this guy, all this stuff he said the whole campaign—he’s not even president yet and he worked on this deal with the company. I’m just in shock. A lot of the workers are in shock. We can’t believe something good finally happened to us. It felt like a victory for the little people.”

This week, those same workers learned their jobs were being relocated to Monterrey, Mexico.

In South Carolina, Trump was able to round up support – and votes – by striking a deal with Boeing to keep jobs in the state. He claimed success and said those workers’ jobs were safe.

This week, those same workers learned their last day at the Boeing plant will be August 25th.

Qatar

On June 9th, the president accused Qatar of being a “high level sponsor of terrorism”. On June 14th, he announced a newly-inked deal with Qatar, worth $12 billion, that would provide several fighter jets to the country.

Of course, this barely scratches the surface, but these topics are sure to remain front and center in the coming days. In the meantime, I’m working on an executive orders list of what’s been passed, what’s worked and what’s failed. I’m trying to figure out how to ensure it remains a living document, of sorts, with updates. I’m open for suggestions if anyone wants to toss any my way.

What’s Heating up Faster than Welfare Drug Testing?

capture-20140116-094513As different states continue to do battle over the constitutionality of welfare recipients being drug tested, there’s a far bigger problem on the horizon. Regardless of which side you fall on, you might want to consider the potential of this newest train-wreck-about-to-happen.

As we know, senior citizens who apply for Medicaid face a few hurdles, including the 5 year look back period and the “spend down” requirement. It’s been in place for several years and it’s always been controversial. We also know that under the new healthcare laws, there are now a staggering 3.9 million Americans who have begun receiving Medicaid. And these millions of people bombarded the system in just 90 days (since the law went into effect). Many of these people aren’t disabled, and in fact, may be considered middle or upper class by any other measure. If they don’t qualify for traditional insurance when they go through the ACA Marketplace, they’re added to Medicaid rosters.

Here’s the kicker – as millions of seniors find themselves spending down their retirement that they worked decades to save and as they endure the time consuming and invasive 5 year look back period, these younger, healthy people aren’t facing the same scrutiny nor must they meet the threshold for coverage. So not only is the government fighting states’ efforts to impose drug testing on those receiving public benefits, it’s also not holding them to the same standards as older Americans.

5 Year Look Back

This law was passed in 2006 and was designed to prevent older Americans from giving away their assets in order to qualify for Medicaid. The way Congress saw it, too many were unloading their assets and once they were covered by Medicaid, they would then reclaim ownership. To remedy that problem, an investigation into the previous 5 years is conducted by Medicaid and if certain assets changed ownership during that period, it could jeopardize an applicant’s coverage. For families who are really limited in their options and see no other alternative but to place a loved one in a nursing home, it often means they either must pay for nursing home coverage or wait. For instance, if a retiree gifted to his granddaughter, say, $20,000, and then four years later was diagnosed with dementia and would require around the clock care in a nursing home which cost $5,000 a month, Medicaid would likely not begin making payments until after the fourth month. He would have to pay the $20,000 himself and then Medicaid would kick in. There are a few exceptions, but it’s a very complex law many still don’t understand.

Spend Down

Instead of looking to the past like the 5 year look back, this rule focuses on a Medicaid recipient’s current income and assets. If his income surpasses the Medicaid threshold each month, he will have to apply that overspill (based on government calculations) to his care and treatment before Medicaid will pick up the remaining balance.

The New Face of Medicaid

So who are these young and otherwise healthy individuals who are qualifying for this government program? Convicts, single parents who are earning a good living, college graduates who can’t find a job in their chosen field and others.  And not a single one will feel the scrutiny that the elderly endure.

And if you’re wondering why lawmakers are uninterested in leveling the playing field, you should know, when it gets right down to it, no one cares. Judith Solomon, vice president for health policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said, “They are really two different things…what we’re talking about now is providing health insurance to a new group of people to help them get on with their lives and accumulate enough savings and assets to care for themselves in their old age, contrasted with elderly people  who already benefit from Medicare hospitalization coverage and should be willing to spend down their assets to qualify for Medicaid coverage for long-term care.” Regarding the 5 year look back, these new recipients “don’t have a lot of money in the bank” and it’s “hardly worth the government’s efforts to try to document their assets”.

That’s too bad, because there are many who can relate to this example:

A 35 year old man loses his job. He owns his home and has plenty of equity in it; he also has a nicely padded bank account, but because he lost his job, odds are, he qualifies for Medicaid – with no spend down or look back stipulations.

The “domino effect” could be catastrophic to the healthcare sector, the economy and, of course, the political sector (which wouldn’t be a bad thing).

Finally, for those states that opted out of the Medicaid expansion the Obama Administration tried to shove down their collective throat, you can be sure this just might be the breaking point, followed by the rest of the states reaching their own breaking points.

Contradictions in Black and White

President Obama is expected to speak a bit later this morning. This, after a weekend of speculation about what lies ahead for the nation, is sure to ignite controversy and drive approval ratings even further down. So, with that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the speech he made on the 8th of this month and compare it to what will be announced later today. If you want to re-familiarize yourself with that speech from earlier this month, the text in its entirety can be found here.

Oh -but before I get knee-deep in this mess, did anyone pay attention to the Occupy Wall Street demonstration this weekend? What? Is it news to you too? That figures. The media in its entirety and for whatever reason, declined to cover it. This is definitely a major storm that’s on the horizon and one I’m sure will grow more desperate before any solutions are found. Use the hashtag #overhaulwallstreet if you want to follow it on Twitter because as of now, you won’t find media coverage. OK…so back to the Obama mess.

Here’s how I’ll do it – the president’s words from his 9/8 speech, verbatim, will be put in bold print followed by the Associated Press piece that’s currently running and includes the low-down on today’s speech. These, of course, are just a few of the contradictions, though there are many.

I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans

Today: President Barack Obama’s proposal to reduce long-term deficits with $1.5 trillion in new taxes will be announced today. The plan stands little chance of passing Congress.

(Yeah – nothing controversial with that, right?)

________

In addition to the trillion dollars of spending cuts I’ve already signed into law, it’s a balanced plan that would reduce the deficit by making additional spending cuts; by making modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid

Today: $580 billion in cuts in mandatory benefit programs, including $248 billion in Medicare and $72 billion in Medicaid and other health programs. Other mandatory benefit programs include farm subsidies.

(I’m thinking “modest” should be used loosely in this instance…seriously…$580 billion?)

________

But what we can’t do – what I won’t do – is let this economic crisis be used as an excuse to wipe out the basic protections that Americans have counted on for decades. I reject the idea that we need to ask people to choose between their jobs and their safety.

Today: And if Congress fails to adopt the deficit-reduction recommendations of a bipartisan joint Congressional committee this fall, the Defense Department will be required under debt ceiling legislation passed in August to find about $900 billion in savings over the coming decade. Cuts that deep will almost certainly entail reducing personnel benefits for active and retired troops, Pentagon officials and analysts say.

(Maybe I’m confused about what “basic protections” are? Cuts in benefits for our military?)

________

Of course, so much of the brouhaha in Washington is subjective. What one says can be construed in a dozen ways, but it’s difficult to slow dance around much of what was said and what’s sure to be said today. One thing’s for sure: we’ll hear it from the president himself in a couple of hours.