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Obamacare premiums will be down an average of 1.5 percent next year

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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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Doubling down, Trump calls congressman who body-slammed reporter a ‘tough cookie’

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TEMPE, Ariz. — President Donald Trump on Friday redoubled his praise for a Montana congressman’s assault on a reporter during the lawmaker’s campaign for Congress last year.

“Greg is a tremendous guy, tough cookie,” Trump said of Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., who was sentenced to 40 hours of community service, 20 hours of anger management counseling and a $385 fine after he pleaded guilty to attacking Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian.

On Thursday night, at a campaign rally in Missoula, Mont., Trump lauded Gianforte to a cheering crowd.

“Never wrestle him,” Trump said Thursday night. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my guy.”

He reiterated his admiration for Gianforte Friday at a signing ceremony for a presidential memorandum instructing members of his Cabinet to remove impediments to major water projects, including streamlining the environmental review process — a boon to farmers and a loss for environmentalists in Western water wars.

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Paul Manafort shows up to court in a wheelchair, learns sentencing date

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Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was rolled into a Virginia federal court Friday in a wheelchair, wearing a green prison uniform instead of his signature tailored suit.

The judge scheduled Manafort to be sentenced Feb. 8 for eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud and dismissed the remaining charges against him.

Manafort, appearing visibly grayer, was pushed into court in a wheelchair, missing his right shoe.

“There are significant issues with Mr. Manafort’s health concerning confinement,” his lawyer, Kevin Downing, told the judge.

Downing requested that the court expedite Manafort’s sentencing so he could be moved to a facility better equipped to deal with his health issues.

A jury in Alexandria convicted Manafort on eight counts of tax evasion and bank fraud counts in August, but were unable to reach a verdict on 10 additional counts, leaving Mueller’s prosecutors to decide whether to retry him. The new ruling no longer gives them that option.

In September, Manafort took a plea deal based on separate charges filed by the Mueller team in Washington, agreeing to cooperate with investigators. Court filings in that case indicated that the prosecutors would seek to delay Manafort’s sentence in the Virginia case until they were satisfied that he had answered all their questions as part of his cooperation agreement.

Both cases against Manafort involved his political consulting for the Russian-backed government of Ukraine and its former president, Viktor Yanukovych, well before Manafort served briefly as Trump’s campaign chairman. Manafort was found guilty of intentionally dodging taxes on the millions he was paid for the work, by stashing it in overseas banks and using it to indulge his expensive tastes.

The Virginia federal judge, T.S. Ellis, denied an earlier request by Manafort to wear a suit to Friday’s court hearing.

“Defendants who are in custody post-conviction are, as a matter of course, not entitled to appear for sentencing or any other hearing in street clothing,” he said.

The judge said Manafort should be treated no differently.

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New York man arrested for threatening to kill senators supporting Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation

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A man was arrested in New York on Friday for threatening the lives of two U.S. senators for their support of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Ronald DeRisi of Smithtown, New York, allegedly left more than 10 voicemails for two senators to discourage them from voting to confirm Kavanaugh, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.

Kavanaugh had a contentious confirmation process after he was publicly accused of sexual misconduct by three women, including Christine Blasey Ford, a California psychology professor who testified he sexually assaulted her at a party when they were both in high school.

Neither of the senators who received messages was named in the criminal complaint.

“Nine millimeter, side of the f—ing head! If f—ing Kavanaugh gets in, he’s dead f—ing meat,” one message from Sept. 27 threatened. “Actually, even if Kavanaugh doesn’t get in, he’s dead f—ing meat.”

Another message, recorded on Oct. 6, only said “tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.” The caller included one senator’s home address in some of the calls, stating “we’ll be in touch.”

Image: Ronald DeRisi
Ronald DeRisi was arrested in New York after leaving voice messages threatening to kill two U.S. Senators for their support of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.Suffolk County Police

Federal prosecutors say DeRisi began leaving messages for the lawmakers on Sept. 27, the day Kavanaugh and Ford testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee on the allegations, and continued on after Kavanaugh’s swearing-in ceremony on Oct. 6.

Authorities traced the calls made to a pre-paid cellphone purchased with a debit card belonging to DeRisi, according to an unsealed affidavit by Lawrence O. Anyaso, a special agent with the United States Capitol Police.

Anyaso wrote that during the investigation he learned of a 2015 case in which DeRisi pleaded guilty to aggravated harassment in the second degree after calling someone’s home and office more than 15 times and leaving threatening voicemails.

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