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WASHINGTON — Average premiums for individual insurance plans on the national exchange created by the Affordable Care Act will be down next year after major spikes in 2017 and 2018.

According to a new report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the price for a benchmark “silver” plan through the federal HealthCare.gov site will be an average of 1.5 percent lower in 2019 after rising 37 percent in 2018.

There’s wide variation from state to state. In Tennessee, premiums are down 26 percent after a 56 percent increase the previous year. In North Dakota, they’re up 20 percent after an 8 percent increase in 2018. Open enrollment for plans begins Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15.

“President Trump’s administration took action to address the skyrocketing price of health insurance, and now we are starting to see the results,” CMS administrator Seema Verma said in a press release.

But much of the drop-off is due to companies raising premiums too much in 2018, experts say, amid a chaotic period when Republicans came close to repealing Obamacare and President Donald Trump announced plans to “let Obamacare implode” in order to pressure Democrats politically.

During this time, a number of insurers pulled out of markets entirely, briefly leaving some areas with no plans before state officials managed to attract replacements, in some cases by approving large premium hikes. This year, more insurers are expanding their presence instead. Thirty-nine percent of counties have only one insurer, versus 56 percent in 2018.

Democrats countered that the premiums would be even lower absent moves by the administration that experts say likely increased them.

“Here’s the simple truth: People buying health insurance in America today are paying more for it than they should because of the relentless sabotage campaign by the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress and the states,” Leslie Dach, chair of the progressive group Protect Our Care, said in a statement,

Trump has recently claimed credit for stabilizing markets, but independent analysts say a number of White House actions increased premiums, including ending the individual mandate to buy insurance, cutting off payments to insurers for lower deductibles and promoting alternative short-term plans that do not have to cover pre-existing conditions.

“Premiums are going down because insurers overshot with premium increases this year that were too high,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president for health reform at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said on Twitter. “Premiums would be even lower if not for repeal of the individual mandate penalty and expansion of short-term plans.”

Other administration moves most likely contributed to the premium decrease, however, including approving state plans to stabilize their markets.



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'EU CANNOT retreat!' German MEP warns Brussels will NOT back down over 'vital' backstop

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EU GREENS President Ska Keller remarked “wiggle room” for the UK is very small in Brexit negotiations, and reaffirmed EU leaders “cannot retreat” from the “vital” Irish backstop.

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Beto O’Rourke talks about what it will be like for ‘whoever’ runs against Trump

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By Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas — When it comes to a 2020 presidential run, Beto O’Rourke is still playing hard to get — even as the buzz around him intensifies.

The three-term Democratic congressman murmured “No decision. No decision on that,” when pressed by an attendee during a town hall Friday in his native El Paso who playfully demanded: “You’re going to run for president, right?”

A onetime punk rocker, O’Rourke became a political star in national liberal circles, raised $80-plus million and came within three percentage points of upsetting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to become the first Democrat to win statewide office in Texas in nearly a quarter century. The 46-year-old is giving up his House seat and has said he’ll wait until he finishes his term Jan. 3 before making up his mind on 2020.

Amid his indecision, O’Rourke’s name has continued to rise among top potential Democratic presidential candidates — even climbing to at or near the top in some opinion polls.

Later asked at the town hall about the “immense pressure” the eventual Democratic presidential nominee competing with President Donald Trump and his combative campaigning style could face to refrain from going negative, O’Rourke said “interesting, speculative question.”

“Whoever is running may very well be running against somebody who has not the slightest respect for our norms, our traditions, civility, dignity, decency and public life,” O’Rourke said. “Where you can say anything that you want to from the highest perch of power in this land.”

He continued of 2020: “This is the mother of all tests for this democracy and whether we can run a campaign, have candidates at all levels from schoolboard to the White House who are willing to focus on issues, on our potential, on our promise, on the future instead of our fears, instead of attacking one another personally, instead of going for the most base impulse and instincts among us.”

O’Rourke, whose populist brand of optimism was a hit with many Texas voters, said he had planned to make Friday his last day in Congress and spend it packing up his belongings and heading back to Texas. Instead, though, he’s planning to return to Capitol Hill next week for discussions on passing federal spending bills “because the government will run out of money on Dec. 21” unless Congress acts.

Trump has vowed to help force a government shutdown unless funding to expand the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border is approved — something O’Rourke calls inhumane and ineffective.

“I will vote against any budget proposal that comes forward that adds to the already 600 miles of walls and fencing and physical barriers that we have in this country,” he said. “Not only is it a waste of your money at a time that we are $21 trillion in debt, but we are projected to add $1 trillion in deficit spending to that debt just in this next fiscal year.”

O’Rourke plans to cross into Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, later Friday to meet with immigrants from Central America and elsewhere who want to claim asylum in the United States because they are fleeing violence or political persecution back home, but have been waiting for weeks because federal authorities at the border can’t keep up with demand.

On Saturday, O’Rourke is touring Tornillo, the tent city in remote West Texas where 2,300 immigrant teens are being held at what began as an emergency shelter but now is taking on a permanent feel — costing taxpayers up to $1,200 per child, per day.

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Warren takes veiled swipe at Trump in speech to new grads, says she is ‘optimistic’ about future

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By Diamond Naga Siu

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., took a thinly veiled swipe at President Donald Trump in a speech to new graduates of Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday, telling students that even in the midst of trying times, she remains optimistic about young people’s ability to effect change.

“So as politicians try to turn us against each other, as they sell out to Wall Street, to big drug companies, to big oil companies, to big student loan companies, as the President of the United States kisses up to autocrats, and undermines voting and basic democratic institutions — even in the midst of all of that, I look out at you, and I am optimistic. You have power,” she said in a commencement address at the historically black college and university (HBCU).

Morgan State University is Maryland’s largest HBCU.

In her address, Warren said that the government has “systematically discriminated against black people in this country,” and the “rigged system” needs to be changed.

“Everyone will tell you to work hard. Teachers, parents, coaches — I agree. And under the rules of Commencement Speakers, I am required to say, work hard,” Warren said to applause. “And you should. But I’m here with a bolder message: It’s time to change the rules. It’s time to change the rules.”

Those rules, Warren continued, “didn’t rig themselves.”

“The rules are rigged because the rich and the powerful have bought and paid for too many politicians,” Warren said. “And if we dare to ask questions, they will try to divide us. Pit white working people against black and brown working people, so that they won’t ban together and demand real change.”

She continued by saying, “It’s always up to us, you and me, and there’s a lot more of us than there is of them.”

Warren, who was met with a standing ovation during the ceremony, was also awarded an honorary degree from the university.

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