U.S. lawmakers await details of Mueller’s Russia report

U.S. lawmakers waited on Sunday for details of a confidential report into a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election that has cast a pall over President Donald Trump’s time in office and raised questions about possible collusion between the Republican’s campaign and Moscow.


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Connecticut Lawmakers Seek To Legalize Smart Contract Use In Commerce

Lawmakers from the U.S. state of Connecticut have introduced a bill that calls for authorizing and legalizing the use of blockchain technology’s smart contracts in commerce conducted or initiated in the state. The partisan house bill 7310 titled “An Act Authorizing the use of Smart Contracts” was introduced by the House Commerce Committee.
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Democratic lawmakers question Ross’s truthfulness

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Texas Lawmakers Take Aim At Surprise Medical Bills

A bipartisan group of lawmakers announced plans to address surprise medical bills in a way that would take the “burden” off Texans.

During a press conference Thursday, state Sen. Kelly Hancock, a Republican from suburban Fort Worth, announced he had filed a bill aimed at preventing medical providers from balance-billing patients, among other things. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat from San Antonio, is filing a similar bill in the House.

If passed, the legislation would force medical providers and health insurers to mediate payment disputes before they send bills to patients. Hancock said the point of SB 1264 is to take “the burden off of patients.”

“[It] takes it off of their plates completely,” Hancock said.

He highlighted the case of Drew Calver, a public school teacher in Austin whose six-figure hospital bill after a heart attack was featured in a “Bill of the Month” investigation by KHN, NPR member station KUT and CBS. Hancock noted Calver’s bill was reduced after the media attention, but it shouldn’t take such attention for a patient to get a reasonable bill.

Under this legislation, both sides of the payment dispute would settle their issues through an existing balance-bill mediation program. The Texas Department of Insurance program has been successful in lowering medical bills across the state.

The legislation would beef up the program, which addresses surprise balance bills greater than $ 500 from all emergency providers, including free-standing emergency departments and all out-of-network providers working at a network facility.

“This is designed to apply in situations where patients don’t have any choice which facility they go to or which physician is involved in their care,” Hancock said.

The insurance department’s mediation program, historically, had many loopholes and few consumers qualified for help. It was expanded in 2017, though, and more patients have been filing complaints.

For example, in 2014, the department was asked to mediate 686 medical bills. During the 2018 fiscal year, it received 4,445 bills.

Hancock said the program, so far, has saved Texas patients $ 30 million.

Consumer advocates argued the system works only when patients know mediation is an option, however.

Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, said patients don’t always know help is available or they find the process intimidating.

“The instructions for how to do it are on your medical bill and your explanation of benefits — the most indecipherable documents you are going to get,” she told KUT earlier this year.

She and others have argued Texas should adopt a program similar to those in states like New York, California and Florida, whose systems are more consumer-friendly.

Martinez Fischer said it’s time Texas officials step in to help patients who are caught in the middle of disputes between medical providers and health insurers.

“It has been an industry issue for a few years — I grant you that,” he said, “the health plans and the providers fighting over their business interests, and I respect that. But 10 years later, it is a consumer issue.”

Among other things, Hancock’s bill would allow people with federally regulated self-funded health plans to opt into the state’s mediation program. According to Hancock, those plans make up about 40 percent of Texas’ insurance market, but those consumers are currently not able to take part in the program. Hancock said this should provide relief to consumers while federal lawmakers weigh their own efforts to address surprise medical bills.

“Texas will send a loud and clear signal to D.C. that similar consumer protections need to be passed at the federal level,” Hancock said. “Until then, Texas … [is] committed to doing something about it.”

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said he’s encouraged by Texas’ efforts, but called federal protections “essential.”

“Only approval in Congress of legislation like my End Surprise Billing Act can both protect those who work for large employers with self-funded, federally regulated ERISA plans and assure that patients across America are not forced to pay the price for conflicts between insurers and health care providers,” he said in a statement.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KUT, NPR and Kaiser Health News.

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Behind the scenes: How four veteran lawmakers saved the budget deal and avoided a second shutdown

Richard Shelby needed a drink. As the top Republican negotiator in Congress, the powerful Appropriations Committee chairman had spent the past few days hammering out the contours of a bipartisan spending bill to avert a second government shutdown.


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Utah Voters Approved Medicaid Expansion, But State Lawmakers Are Balking


[UPDATED at 4:30 p.m. ET]

Utah residents may have thought they were done fighting about Medicaid expansion last November. But when Utah lawmakers opened a new legislative session in late January, they began pushing through a bill to roll back the scope and impact of an expansion that voters approved in a ballot measure.

That scaled-back version of Medicaid expansion passed the Utah House on Friday by a 56-19 vote.

The activists who pushed the ballot measure are not pleased.

“We were very clear about what we wanted,” said Andrew Roberts, a spokesman for Utah Decides, the group that organized the Medicaid expansion referendum, known as Proposition 3. “We are frustrated, and I think Utahns are frustrated.”

That frustration led his group to hire a billboard truck to drive in circles around the Capitol building and through the snowy streets of Salt Lake City and its suburbs. Signs on the sides of the truck flash phrases in LED lights, including “Support democracy. Support Utah’s vote.” A looping video advertisement urges residents to call lawmakers “who don’t respect the will of the people.”

After six years of talking about Medicaid expansion, voters approved the ballot measure on Nov. 6, with 53 percent in favor. If implemented fully, 150,000 Utahns would gain coverage. The skinny expansion — which the state Senate and governor support — will also need federal approval.

Similar legislative efforts to curtail expansion are also happening in Idaho, where voters passed a Medicaid expansion initiative in November. Sixty-one percent of voters were in favor. Idaho lawmakers are considering ways to scale that program back.

In politically and fiscally conservative Utah, legislators argue the 0.15 percent non-food sales tax that voters approved won’t be enough to pay for Medicaid expansion. So they’ll pass an expansion, but only a very limited one.

Voters “wanted Medicaid expansion, and that’s what we’re doing,” said Republican state Sen. Allen Christensen. But, he added, the voters “didn’t fill in the proper blanks. We are filling in those blanks for them. They are not obligated to balance the budget. We are.”

Christensen is leading the rollback effort in Utah. His alternative proposal, SB 96, would cap the number of individuals who would qualify for Medicaid, add work requirements and lower the annual income limit. Proposition 3 supporters had wanted the coverage available for people who made up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or nearly $ 17,000 a year. But Christensen’s bill would offer Medicaid coverage only to people who made less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $ 12,000 for an individual.

Making those changes would require the state of Utah to get approval for two federal waivers from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Proposition 3 supporters point out that similar requests from other states have been denied.

“From the perspective of voters, I think voters have a right to be furious right now,” said Matt Slonaker, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, another group that has supported Medicaid expansion.

Slonaker said changing the scope of Proposition 3 would mean fewer people getting health coverage, and the state would receive less money from the federal government. He also fears it could make voters feel disillusioned.

“Why would voters ever want to pursue ballot initiatives and direct democracy if the legislature’s just going to repeal it anyway?” Slonaker asked.

While some Utah lawmakers, such as Christensen, describe being “philosophically opposed” to Medicaid expansion, much of the political debate in Utah is about how much expansion will cost, and whether the new sales tax will pay for it. Supporters point to the fiscal experience of other states.

“You should think of Medicaid expansion as no different than if you said, ‘Oh, hey, somebody’s going to go open up a factory,’” said Bryce Ward, an economist at the University of Montana, in Missoula. “And that factory is going to bring, in the case of Montana, $ 600 million of outside money into the state that we’re going to pay to workers here.”

Ward recently published a report on the economic impacts of Medicaid expansion in Montana during the first two years of that program. He said it brought in about $ 600 million dollars in new funds to the state per year. That money supported about 6,000 jobs, he added, or about $ 350 million in additional income for residents.

Ward said states like his also can take advantage of savings, because Medicaid expansion makes providing health care to certain groups, like prisoners, more affordable. While states do have to pay 10 percent of the cost of expanded Medicaid (the federal government covers 90 percent — a more generous “match” than traditional Medicaid), the combination of savings and economic growth meant that, in the case of Montana, the program basically pays for itself, Ward said.

“The benefits that people in Utah have is that people like me in other states have done the work trying to figure this out,” he said. “Or at least get some ballpark estimates of it.”

So far, Utah lawmakers remain unconvinced by studies like Ward’s. The bill to restrict Medicaid expansion is moving fast, and could reach the governor’s desk as soon as next week.

This story is part of a partnership that includes KUERNPR and Kaiser Health News.

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Lawmakers propose federal animal cruelty law

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http://www.acrx.org -As millions of Americans strive to deal with the economic downturn,loss of jobs,foreclosures,high cost of gas,and the rising cost of prescription drug cost. Charles Myrick ,the President of American Consultants Rx, announced the re-release of the American Consultants Rx community service project which consist of millions of free discount prescription cards being donated to thousands of not for profits,hospitals,schools,churches,etc. in an effort to assist the uninsured,under insured,and seniors deal with the high cost of prescription drugs.-American Consultants Rx -Pharmacy Discount Network News

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Trump and lawmakers paralyzed over shutdown as both sides remain dug in

The standstill underscores the dysfunction gripping Washington and the president’s seeming indifference to shuttered federal agencies.
Politics

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Lawmakers: Probe Alexander Acosta’s ‘Shocking’ Plea Deal with Jeffrey Epstein

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.—Hours after Jeffrey Epstein settled a civil lawsuit that was about to go to trial, a Florida congresswoman stood outside the courthouse and demanded an investigation into another aspect of the disgraced billionaire’s long-running drama: the role Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta played in a sweetheart plea deal.

“We are hoping for transparency,” Rep. Lois Frankel, a Democrat, said at a press conference a day after she and 14 other lawmakers called on the Department of Justice inspector general to open a probe.

“It is just a shocking plea agreement.”

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UK’s largest housebuilder calls on lawmakers to move forward with Brexit and stop the uncertainty

Brexit uncertainty is "unhelpful" for those seeking to buy a home, the CEO of the U.K.'s largest housebuilder by volume told CNBC Thursday.
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When Will Lawmakers Stop Surveilling Women’s Bodies?

Women claimed an outsized voice last week in the first national elections since the #MeToo movement went viral—but we have a long way to go in reclaiming our bodies.

Lorie Shaull / Creative Commons

A record number of women ran for political office this year, and a record number will be seated in Congress, but the numbers of women in political office are still depressingly low. Internationally, the U.S. ranked 104th for female representation before the midterms, and the latest elections are just a nudge up. Women will still fill less than a quarter of the seats come 2019, and only nine governors will be female.

Gender parity in politics matters—because our rights and our bodies are on the line. An insidiary and often unnoticed rise in the surveillance and control over women’s bodies is happening right here and now. Some of the strategies are familiar; others are creative and even absurd.

A recent story from Tanzania about the expulsion of pregnant girls from school—a practice recently revived from the 1960s—might be read with curiosity, but seem remote, to those of us living in the U.S. After all, girls here aren’t taken from class and made to pee in a jar for compulsory pregnancy tests twice a year. But several weeks ago, the Virginia prison system did ban visitors from using tampons.

You read that correctly: The state of Virginia wanted to make it so that visitors to prisons in the state revealed to be using a tampon by a body-scan machine would be turned away, and their future visitation privileges “reviewed.” Prison officials claimed this was part of an effort to reduce fatal overdoses from drugs smuggled into prisons. The ACLU and other advocacy groups disagreed, and pressured the prison system to reverse course. Their intervention allowed women to escape this latest surveillance, but some effects remain. The body scans of visitors will still reveal tampon use—which remains intrusive, not to mention creepy.

Women these days are engaged in a constant game of whack-a-mole against attacks on their reproductive rights and health. As women candidates scored victories in the midterms, Alabama voters approved a measure to recognize the rights of the unborn—laying the groundwork for an outright abortion ban if the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, now more at risk than ever, was ever be overturned.

Vigilance, it seems, is now required to simply hold on to rights that we thought were already secure. Take, for example, the contraception wars—which many of us felt were settled in the 1960s and 70s, but, then, suddenly weren’t. Rush Limbaugh called law student Sandra Fluke a slut for advocating for contraceptive coverage during debates over the Affordable Care Act, and it was only an opening performance of what was yet to comer. Soon thereafter, employers stated they were willing to cover birth control pills for health reasons, but not to avoid pregnancy—and that to determine the difference, women would have to explain themselves.

Nicole Mone Arteaga was denied access to critical care in June by a Walgreens’ pharmacist in Arizona, who refused to fill a prescription needed to manage the miscarriage of her very-much-wanted pregnancy. He was able to do so because an Arizona “conscience” statute permits pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, abortion medication and drugs that prevent implantation of a fertilized ovum. Arteaga later said that, after explaining in front of her seven-year-old child and five nearby customers that the fetus she was carrying had failed to develop, she left without the prescription “in tears, ashamed and feeling humiliated by a man who knows nothing of my struggles but feels it is his right to deny medication prescribed to me by my doctor.”

Arizona is not the only state where women like Arteaga aren’t in control of their bodies. The list of intrusive regulations nationwide goes on and on, as does the fight to stop them. But with each one of these proposed policies the goalpost of what might become normalized is moved—even if they’re staved off in legislative session or the courts intervene to protect women’s bodies.

In the name of women’s “right to know,” North Carolina requires physicians to display and describe the results of a mandatory ultrasound before an abortion, which requires a vaginal probe in many cases—and claimed it was enough that a patient who didn’t enjoy the process could avert her eyes or cover her ears to make do. A court reviewing the law sympathized with the patient lying “half-naked or disrobed on her back,” but ultimately struck the law down because it infringed on the physician’s rights; the requirement was “quintessential compelled speech,” “forc[ing] physicians to say things they otherwise would not say,” even though the compulsion experienced by the physicians inevitably pales in comparison to that experienced by the patients. Today, similar “speech and display” ultrasound laws remain in effect in Louisiana, Texas and Wisconsin.

Virginia’s tampon ban was not defended as a means to limit contraband for the sake of prison control—it was defined as an effort to save prisoner’s lives. Really? Instead of beginning with the vagina, perhaps we could try adequate medical care staffing and emergency response, or drug and mental health treatment programs.

Nature makes it hard enough for girls and women to consistently exercise comfortable control over their bodies: we have periods, we get pregnant, we lose wanted pregnancies. It isn’t fair, just or right that we must also continue to face down boys and men each day who assert their own prerogatives over our bodies—and it’s scary that the government increasingly, incrementally and, under the guise of apparently noble but ultimately shallow justifications, is also attempting to take more and more control over our decisions and our destinies.

It’s clear now more than ever that our constitutional rights are an imperfect shield—one around which intrusive laws can peer, poke and prod. The midterms were a strong first step toward taking back our power to decide and determine our own futures—but we must be ready to vote, mobilize, run for office and pack up our pink hats and posters until we’re certain that our bodily integrity is safe.

Lois Shepherd is Professor of Law, Professor of Public Health Sciences, the Wallenborn Professor of Biomedical Ethics and Co-Director of Studies in Reproductive Ethics and Justice at the University of Virginia. She is a Public Voices Fellow with the Op-Ed Project.

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California Lawmakers Pass Talent Protections Act to Help Models and Entertainers Fight Sexual Harassment and Eating Disorders

FIGHTING HARASSMENT: Models in California now have a little more legal reenforcement thanks to the passage of the Talent Protections Act, which was created to fight sexual harassment and eating disorders. While not designed solely for models, the law is geared for the state’s fashion and entertainment industries. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law Sept. 30 and it will take effect in January.
The Model Alliance, the New York-based organization that champions models’ rights, worked closely with California State Assembly member Marc Levine, detailing models’ experiences to help develop the law and calling for its support.
Under the law, talent agencies must create educational materials about sexual harassment prevention and retaliation, as well as information about good nutrition and eating disorders for adults. For minors starting out in the entertainment industry, they and their parents, or respective legal guardian, will be required to have training in these areas. The law also mandates that information about nutrition be provided to fashion models.
Models are routinely advised to lose weight, according to what is said to be the largest survey to date on eating disorders among professional models. Published last year in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the study was an effort

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