States leverage federal funds to help insurers lower premiums

When Tracy Deis decided in 2016 to transition from a full-time job to part-time contract work, the loss of her employer’s health insurance was not a major worry because she knew she could get coverage through the marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act. But price was a big concern. “The ACA made it possible to make the switch in my life,” said Deis, 48, who lives in Minneapolis. But she quickly added, “I was really worried about the cost.”

Her anxiety was understandable. In Minnesota, the average cost of insurance in the state-run exchange soared 57 percent in 2017, after a 40 percent rise in 2016.

Immigrant youth shelters: “If you’re a predator, it’s a gold mine”

Just five days after he reached the United States, the 15-year-old Honduran boy awoke in his Tucson, Arizona, immigrant shelter one morning in 2015 to find a youth care worker in his room, tickling his chest and stomach. When he asked the man, who was 46, what he was doing, the man left. But he returned two more times, rubbing the teen’s penis through his clothing and then trying to reach under his boxers. “I know what you want, I can give you anything you need,” said the worker, who was later convicted of molestation. In 2017, a 17-year-old from Honduras was recovering from surgery at the shelter when he woke up to find a male staff member standing by his bed.

Immigrant toddlers ordered to appear in court alone

As the White House faces court orders to reunite families separated at the border, immigrant children as young as 3 are being ordered into court for their own deportation proceedings, according to attorneys in Texas, California and Washington, D.C.

Requiring unaccompanied minors to go through deportation alone is not a new practice. But in the wake of the Trump administration’s controversial family separation policy, more young children — including toddlers — are being affected than in the past. The 2,000-plus separated children will likely need to deal with court proceedings even as they grapple with the ongoing trauma of being taken from their parents. “We were representing a 3-year-old in court recently who had been separated from the parents. And the child — in the middle of the hearing — started climbing up on the table,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, executive director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center in Los Angeles.

Albuquerque aviation company mum on federal contracts related to immigration

Albuquerque-based CSI Aviation Inc., owned by Allen Weh, a former GOP candidate for New Mexico governor and U.S. Senate, has won multiple contracts from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for transportation and relocation services that occurred in 2017 and 2018, a review of federal government databases shows.In a June 23 news release HHS said when families are apprehended at the border they’re processed first by the U.S. Border Patrol, which then separates the children, placing them in the custody of the department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement. The parents are sent to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for processing. There were 2,053 “separated minors” in HHS facilities on June 20, which is 17 percent of minors under the care of HHS, the agency said. The remaining 83 percent are minors who arrived to the U.S. on their own, without a parent or guardian. It’s unclear whether HHS contracted CSI to fly immigrant children to and from the federal agency’s facilities.

NM supporters of cleaner school buses to rally for lawsuit windfall

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The New Mexico Department of Health says 47,000 children in the state suffer from asthma, and that’s why a coalition wants funds from the Volkswagen emissions-test settlement spent to transition diesel school buses to electric. A group will rally in Albuquerque Thursday to lobby for the $18 million owed to New Mexico by Volkswagen after the auto company was found cheating on federal emission laws. Liliana Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Conservation Voters New Mexico Education Fund, says the unexpected windfall should be used to phase out dirty diesel school buses for clean, electric buses. “In New Mexico, there are approximately 166,000 kids who ride school buses to over 89 school districts, which serve over 300,000 students, over half of whom are children of color,” she points out. “That explains, that’s part of why there are more than 1 in 11 children in New Mexico who suffer from asthma.”

Senate Democrats delay HHS nominee over women’s health funding

Last week, 65 administration nominees — including four to Health and Human Services — sailed through the Senate confirmation process by unanimous vote without any debate. One candidate left out was Dr. Brett Giroir, a Texas physician, who is the president’s choice for assistant secretary of health. Now, shedding light on their reservations, Senate Democrats are saying that Giroir’s testimony before the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee left them skeptical that he would support women’s health programs, which they say are under threat. The Democrats are insisting on a roll call vote on the Senate floor — after the Senate reconvenes Sept. 5. The position for which Giroir is nominated includes oversight of the Office of Population Affairs, which administers Title X grants, and the Office of Adolescent Health, which oversees the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

States have tried versions of ‘skinny repeal.’ It didn’t go well.

Betting that thin is in — and might be the only way forward — Senate Republicans are eyeing a “skinny repeal” that rolls back an unpopular portion of the federal health law. But experts warn that the idea has been tried before, and with little success. Senators are reportedly considering a narrow bill that would eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s “individual mandate,” which assesses a tax on Americans who don’t have insurance, along with penalties for employers with 50 or more workers who fail to offer health coverage. Details aren’t clear, but it appears that — at least initially — the rest of the 2010 health law would remain, including the rule that says insurers must cover people with preexisting medical problems.

In remarks on the Senate floor Wednesday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that “we just heard from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that under such a plan … 16 million Americans would lose their health insurance, and millions more would pay a 20 percent increase in their premiums.” A bipartisan group of 10 governors – including Ohio’s John Kasich and Nevada’s Brian Sandoval – signed a letter echoing these concerns and urging the Senate to reject it. But earlier in the day, some Republicans saw this concept as a means to advance the debate.

‘Extreme’ use of painkillers and doctor shopping plague Medicare, new report says

In Washington, D.C., a Medicare beneficiary filled prescriptions for 2,330 pills of oxycodone, hydromorphone and morphine in a single month last year — written by just one of the 42 health providers who prescribed the person such drugs. In Illinois, a different Medicare enrollee received 73 prescriptions for opioid drugs from 11 prescribers and filled them at 20 different pharmacies. He sometimes filled prescriptions at multiple pharmacies on the same day. These are among the examples cited in a sobering new report released today by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The IG found that heavy painkiller use and abuse remains a serious problem in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D, which serves more than 43 million seniors and disabled people.

Former ‘Border Czar’ gives real facts about immigration

It’s hard to find anyone in Washington who knows border issues better than Alan Bersin. His unique perspective combines years of frontline law enforcement experience with academic knowledge and intellectual interest in the historical, economic and social forces that are at work at the borders of the United States, especially the U.S.-Mexico line. Bersin became U.S. attorney in San Diego in 1993 and subsequently spent almost five years as President Clinton’s “border czar,” overseeing a border-wide crackdown on illegal immigration and drug smuggling. During the Obama administration, he served in several key posts in the Department of Homeland Security, including as acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, the force of 58,000 employees that includes the U.S. Border Patrol as well as CBP officers guarding air, land and sea ports of entry. He later served as assistant secretary for international affairs and chief diplomatic officer at DHS, a job he left last month.

House bill calling for $2M in tuition aid for preschool teachers advances

A measure that would provide $2 million in tuition assistance for preschool teachers to further their education advanced in the state House on Wednesday, with unanimous approval from lawmakers on the Education Committee. The money, which would come from the state’s general fund, would help retain early childhood educators and allow them to command higher wages, said the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, and Rep. Rebecca Dow, R-Truth or Consequences. “This is directly tied to the quality of [the early childhood education] staff,” Dow said during Wednesday’s hearing on House Bill 135. She said the vast majority of educators who would benefit from the bill are women and minorities. A 2016 report by the U.S. departments of Education and Health and Human Services said preschool teachers in the U.S. earn an average of $28,570, far less than the average salary of a kindergarten teacher — over $51,000 — and less than the wages of waiters, janitors and pest-control workers.