Birth control: Trump expands opt-out for workplace insurance

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:21 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 11:19 AM


            In this July 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
In this July 24, 2017 photo, President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington. Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump is allowing more employers to opt out of providing no-cost birth control to women by claiming religious or moral objections, issuing new rules Friday that take another step in rolling back the Obama health care law.

Employers with religious or moral qualms will also be able to cover some birth control methods, and not others. Experts said that could interfere with efforts to promote modern long-acting implantable contraceptives, such as IUDs, which are more expensive.

The new policy was a long-anticipated revision to Affordable Care Act requirements that most companies cover birth control as preventive care for women, at no additional cost. That Obama-era requirement applies to all FDA-approved methods, including the morning-after pill, which some religious conservatives call an abortion drug, though scientists say it has no effect on women who are already pregnant.

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As a result of the ACA, most women no longer pay for contraceptives. Several advocacy groups immediately announced plans to try to block the Trump administration rule. "We are preparing to see the government in court," said Brigitte Amiri, a senior attorney for the ACLU.

Catholic bishops called the administration's move a "return to common sense."

Trump's religious and moral exemption is expected to galvanize both his opponents and religious conservatives who back him, but it seems unlikely to have a major impact on America's largely secular workplaces.

"I can't imagine that many employers are going to be willing to certify that they have a moral objection to standard birth control methods," said Dan Mendelson, president of the consulting firm Avalere Health.

That said, Mendelson said he worries the new rule will set a precedent for weakening ACA requirements that basic benefits be covered. "If you look at it as a public health issue, it is a step in the wrong direction, and it weakens the protections of the ACA," he said.

Tens of thousands of women could be affected by Trump's policy, but the vast majority of companies have no qualms about offering birth control benefits through their health plans. Human resource managers recognize that employers get an economic benefit from helping women space out their pregnancies, since female workers are central to most enterprises.

The administration estimated that some 200 employers who have already voiced objections to the Obama-era policy would qualify for the expanded opt-out, and that 120,000 women would be affected.

However, it's unclear how major religion-affiliated employers such as Catholic hospitals and universities will respond. Many Catholic hospitals now rely on an Obama-era workaround under which the government pays for the cost of birth control coverage. That workaround can continue under the new rules.

Since contraception became a covered preventive benefit, the share of women employees paying with their own money for birth control pills has plunged to 3 percent, from 21 percent, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation figures.

"It was really important for women to have a choice of the full range of contraceptive methods that were FDA-approved," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy for the Kaiser foundation. "This will now make it up to the employer whether or not to cover contraception, and whether to cover all methods."

Salganicoff said she's concerned about coverage for implantable devices that are more expensive but also much more effective. "It opens up a lot of opportunities for employers to make choices about the coverage that women have right now," she said.

The Trump administration's revision broadens a religious exemption that previously applied to houses of worship, religion-affiliated nonprofit groups and closely held private companies. Administration officials said the new policy defends religious freedom. In addition to nonprofits, privately held businesses will be able to seek an exemption on religious or moral grounds, while publicly traded companies can seek an exemption due to religious objections.

"No American should be forced to violate his or her own conscience in order to abide by the laws and regulations governing our health care system," Health and Human Services spokeswoman Caitlin Oakley said in a statement.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the administration's decision.

"Such an exemption is no innovation, but instead a return to common sense, long-standing federal practice, and peaceful coexistence between church and state," Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, the group's president, said in a joint statement with Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, head of its religious liberty committee.

Officials also said the administration is tightening oversight of how plans sold under the health law cover abortion. With limited exceptions, abortions can only be paid for through a separate premium collected from enrollees.

Doctors' groups that were instrumental in derailing Republican plans to repeal the health law expressed their dismay.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the new policy could reverse progress in lowering the nation's rate of unintended pregnancies.

"HHS leaders under the current administration are focused on turning back the clock on women's health," said the organization's president, Dr. Haywood Brown.

The new rules take effect right away.

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Crary reported from New York. AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll contributed to this report.

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FBI releases declassified Carter Page FISA application

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 7:04 PM

The Federal Bureau of Investigation on Saturday released a highly redacted copy of the application made by the bureau to a special intelligence court, asking to establish surveillance in the fall of 2016 on Carter Page, a one-time foreign policy adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign, showing officials feared that Page was working with Russia to undermine the Presidential election.

“The FBI believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian Government,” the document states – interrupted by redactions – but then continues, “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election in violation of criminal law.”

The FBI released an unclassified version of the FISA application document after requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

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At one point, the 412 page document states that “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s campaign.”

“Page has established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers,” the documents states, before additional evidence was redacted, in order to protect intelligence sources and classified information.

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White House figures show Trump on pace to equal Obama deficits

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2018 @ 4:18 AM

Despite clear signs of expanded economic growth, the latest White House budget estimates predict that President Donald Trump is on the verge of overseeing an expansion of federal deficits which will rival that of President Barack Obama’s two terms in office, as the Trump Administration now forecasts a deficit next year that will be over $1 trillion, with no signs of a balanced budget on the horizon.

The latest figures issued by the Office of Management and Budget now predict a deficit this year of $890 billion – and deficits of over $1 trillion per year in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

When you take the $665 billion deficit from Fiscal Year 2017 – Mr. Trump’s first year in office – and then add the projected deficits from the White House budget office for seven more years – you get $7.3 trillion in debt for what would equal two terms of a Trump Administration.

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That would be almost identical to the $7.28 trillion in deficits run up under the eight years of the Obama Administration.

The deficit for 2018 is already running at $607 billion, not far from the 2017 total of $665 billion; one reason for the increase this year is fairly straightforward according to figures from the Treasury Department – revenues coming in to Uncle Sam are down since the implementation of the tax cut plan earlier this year, and overall government spending is up.

The update in budget deficit estimates earlier this month by the White House drew almost no attention on Capitol Hill, where GOP demands for budget restraint have for the most part, gone silent.

The last time the budget was close to being balanced was 2007, when the deficit dropped to $161 billion. But in 2008, the Wall Street Collapse led to an extended recession, as deficits jumped to $458 billion in 2008, and $1.41 trillion in 2009.

A few weeks ago, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow boldly pronounced in a television interview that the federal deficit was coming down, because of a jump in revenues spurred by economic growth under the Trump tax cuts.

But figures clearly show, that just is not the case, as the budget estimates for the White House show flat revenues in 2018, when compared to a year earlier.

“The White House is living in an alternate economic universe,” says Maya MacGuiness, the head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

But few in Washington seem to be listening to warnings from budget watchdog groups like the CFRB, as the deficit just keeps going up, generating little consternation among GOP lawmakers in Congress who once badgered the Obama Administration about its deficit spending.

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Cohen’s lawyer confirms existence of Trump tape

Published: Friday, July 20, 2018 @ 6:28 PM

A lawyer for Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney for President Donald Trump, confirmed late Friday that Cohen does have a recording of a phone call with Mr. Trump from 2016, disputing assertions by the President’s current lawyer that it would be ‘exculpatory’ evidence which would help the President.

In a post on Twitter, Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis wrote, “suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt” Cohen.

“Any attempt at spin can not change what is on the tape,” Cohen added, in what was interpreted by some as a jab at Mr. Trump’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who downplayed the tape to news organizations on Friday.

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The recording of the President – if done by Cohen in New York – would be legal, as the Empire State has laws which only require one party on a phone call to consent to any recording.

The White House made no statement about the tape. The President ignored questions shouted at him about the subject, as he left the White House for a weekend at his golf club in New Jersey.

The tape was part of extensive evidence seized by the FBI during an April 9 raid on Cohen, which sparked outrage from the President – “Attorney-client privilege is dead!” Mr. Trump tweeted a day after the raid.

The raid was an effort by prosecutors in New York to find out more about work that Cohen had done for the President on payments to women such as porn star Stormy Daniels, and model Karen McDougal. Both women have claimed they had relationships with the President, and were paid money to keep quiet.

Prosecutors have indicated that they are probing questions about how the payments were made before the 2016 elections – and whether any of the transactions could run afoul of federal campaign finance laws.

In recent weeks, Cohen has cut his legal cooperation with the President, making it clear in statements and interviews that his loyalty was to his family, and not Mr. Trump.

“I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy,” Cohen told ABC News earlier this month.

It wasn’t immediately clear if this tape recording of a Cohen-Trump phone call was among the items which had been reviewed by a former federal judge, as to whether or not attorney-client privilege would prevent its release to prosecutors.

Acting as special master in the Cohen case, Barbara Jones has already released over 2 million items seized by the FBI to prosecutors.

On Friday, she told a federal judge in court documents that of 4,085 items designated as privileged – either by Cohen or by the President’s lawyers – 1,452 of those did not deserve that designation, and were given to the feds for further review.

No charges have yet been filed against Cohen, as he now is being represented by Davis, well known for his unyielding defense of President Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation.

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Trump faces more domestic flak over tariffs, trade policies

Published: Friday, July 20, 2018 @ 4:16 AM

In a loud, bipartisan message from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, and across the landscape of American business and agriculture, President Donald Trump is facing sharp questions about his tariffs on China, Mexico, Canada, and Europe, as businesses and farmers say they’re being economically harmed by the President’s actions on trade.

In hearings this week in Congress and at the Commerce Department, in speeches on the floors of the House and Senate, and in news conferences outside the Capitol, the message has been simple – the Trump Tariffs are hurting, and more won’t help.

Sporting signs that said, “Say No to the Car tax,” auto workers rallied outside the Capitol on Thursday morning as Commerce Department officials were listening to car industry officials denounce the idea of a new tariff threatened by President Trump on imported cars from Europe.

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“The opposition is widespread and deep, because the consequences are alarming,” said Jennifer Thomas, with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

Thomas’ testimony was echoed by a series of other industry groups, all arguing that a new tariff on imported autos and auto parts would only hurt U.S. consumers.

“The tariffs will lead to higher vehicles prices for all automakers, foreign and domestic,” said Matt Blunt, the former Governor of Missouri, now with the American Automotive Policy Council.

“Tariffs on parts will also increases cost on other things made in America,” said Linda Dempsey of the National Association of Manufacturers.

On Capitol Hill, 149 lawmakers signed a letter to the Commerce Secretary opposing the use of a special ‘national security’ tariff procedure.

“We do not believe that imports of automobiles and automotive parts pose a national security threat,” read the letter, spearheaded by Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-IN). “Price increases from tariffs, quotas, and other trade restrictions will ultimately be borne by American families in the form of higher vehicle prices.”

A day earlier, Walorski had joined members in both parties at a House hearing to vent their frustration at how earlier tariffs levied by the Trump Administration were hurting U.S. farmers back home.

“We are concerned with the administration’s decision to place tariff’s on our trading partners,” said Russell Boening, the head of the Texas Farm Bureau, who said one-quarter of Texas agriculture depends on exports.

“The current tariffs, the continuing back-and-forth retaliatory actions, and trade uncertainties are hitting American agriculture from all sides,” said Kevin Papp, the President of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

“Once you lose a market, it’s really hard to get it back,” Papp added, who grows corn and soybeans on his family farm.

“Farmers are dealing with big shifts in the commodity markets because of trade and tariff threats,” said Scott VanderWal, who heads the South Dakota Farm Bureau.

The stories of concerns on the farm – and in other every day businesses – are echoed almost daily by lawmakers in both parties, who worry that President Trump’s drive to level the trade playing field is going to turn into a trade war.

“If this starts to spiral out of control, business will pull back,” said Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), who has been an especially sharp critic of the President’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and Europe.

Rattling off examples of businesses back home who are feeling the pinch from either the higher tariffs – or retaliatory tariffs by other nations – has become almost a daily experience on Capitol Hill.

“We’re in the midst of a full-blown trade war,” said Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “If it gets out of control, it can take us into an economic recession.”

It has led Democrats to hammer on the issue more in recent weeks, convinced that rural voters with ties to agriculture might not be as thrilled to vote Republican in the fall elections for Congress.

At the White House, there has been no sign that President Trump is going to back off of his push on trade, as he looks at tariffs as leverage to force other countries to lower their own trade barriers.

But so far, the only response from other countries has been retaliatory tariffs – and those are clearly being felt across the U.S., especially in agriculture.

“There have been very few issues in my career as a farmer that have caused me to lose sleep,” said Michelle Erickson-Jones, with the Montana Grain Growers Association.

“But these tariffs are one of them.”

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