Judge rejects bid by 18 US states to revive Obamacare subsidies

A man looks over the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as Obamacare) signup page on the HealthCare.gov website in New York in this October 2, 2013 photo illustration. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 October 2017
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Judge rejects bid by 18 US states to revive Obamacare subsidies

SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON: A US judge on Wednesday refused to block President Donald Trump’s decision to end subsidy payments to health insurers under Obamacare, handing Trump a victory against Democratic attorneys general who have regularly challenged the president’s policies in court.
US District Judge Vince Chhabria in San Francisco said the federal government did not have to make the payments while litigation over the subsidies unfolds.
Chhabria, appointed by former Democratic President Barack Obama, wrote that although the case appeared to be a close call, “it appears initially that the Trump administration has the stronger legal argument.”
The Trump administration this month terminated the payments to the insurers, which help cover medical expenses for low-income Americans, as part of several moves to dismantle Obama’s signature health care law formally known as the Affordable Care Act.
Democratic attorneys general have repeatedly opposed Trump in court this year over immigration, the environment and health care.
After Trump’s decision to end the insurance subsidies, 18 states and the District of Columbia asked for an immediate order halting Trump’s move while the case is being litigated. They argued that terminating the payments harmed customers by raising insurance rates.
In his ruling, Chhabria said the kind of emergency order requested by the states was not necessary.
“The truth is that most state regulators have devised responses that give millions of lower-income people better health coverage options than they would otherwise have had,” Chhabria said.
“This is true in almost all the states joining this lawsuit,” the judge added.
US Justice Department spokeswoman Lauren Ehrsam said the subsidy payments usurped Congress’ spending power and that the department was pleased with Chhabria’s ruling.

BIPARTISAN PROPOSAL
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who is leading the lawsuit, said in a statement that Trump’s decision undermined payments that keep health care affordable.
“Without an emergency order halting the Trump action, swift action in this litigation becomes even more compelling,” he said.
US Senator Patty Murray, a Washington state Democrat, said the ruling “only makes it more critical” that the Senate pass a bipartisan agreement she co-authored, which would authorize the subsidies.
Earlier on Wednesday, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that the proposal would cut the US deficit by $3.8 billion over the next decade.
The subsidies were amounting to nearly $600 million a month. They were due to cost $7 billion this year and were estimated to grow to $10 billion for 2018, according to congressional analysts.
With the beginning of enrollment for 2018 insurance policies on Obamacare exchanges set for Nov. 1, Chhabria suggested that the states focus on communicating the message that they have devised a response to the subsidy cuts that prevents harm to a large number of people.
“If the states are so concerned that people will be scared away from the exchanges by the thought of higher premiums, perhaps they should stop yelling about higher premiums,” Chhabria wrote.
Insurers say they do not profit from the subsidies under the Affordable Care Act, but pass them on directly to consumers to reduce deductibles, co-payments and other out-of-pocket medical expenses for low-income people.
Premiums for Obamacare “silver” plans, generally the most popular type of health insurance plan on the individual health insurance market, rose 34 percent on average for 2018, according to an analysis published on Wednesday by Avalere Health, a research and consulting firm.


North Korea confirms leader Kim Jong Un on train to summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train as he departs for a summit in Hanoi, in Pyongyang, North Korea in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 23, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 1 min 59 sec ago
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North Korea confirms leader Kim Jong Un on train to summit

DANDONG, China: North Korea leader Kim Jong Un was on a train Sunday to Vietnam for his second summit with President Donald Trump, state media confirmed.
Kim was accompanied by Kim Yong Chol, who has been a key negotiator in talks with the US, and Kim Yo Jong, the leader’s sister, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported. TV footage and photos distributed by the North’s state-run news agency showed Kim inspecting a guard of honor at the Pyongyang station before waving from the train.
Late Saturday, an Associated Press reporter saw a green-and-yellow train similar to one used in the past by Kim cross into the Chinese border city of Dandong via a bridge.
The Trump-Kim meeting is slated for Wednesday and Thursday in Hanoi.
Their first summit last June in Singapore ended without substantive agreements on the North’s nuclear disarmament and triggered a months-long stalemate in negotiations as Washington and Pyongyang struggled with the sequencing of North Korea’s nuclear disarmament and the removal of US-led sanctions against the North.
Kim’s overseas travel plans are routinely kept secret. It could take more than two days for the train to travel thousands of kilometers (miles) through China to Vietnam.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry announced Saturday that Kim would pay an official goodwill visit to the country “in the coming days” in response to an invitation by President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also the general secretary of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party.
In his upcoming meeting with Trump, experts say Kim will seek a US commitment for improved bilateral relations and partial sanctions relief while trying to minimize any concessions on his nuclear facilities and weapons.
While Kim wants to leverage his nuclear and missile program for economic and security benefits, there continue to be doubts on whether he’s ready to fully deal away an arsenal that he may see as his strongest guarantee of survival.
Last year, North Korea suspended its nuclear and long-range missile tests and unilaterally dismantled its nuclear testing ground and parts of a rocket launch facility without the presence of outside experts, but none of those steps were seen as meaningful cutbacks to the North’s weapons capability.
While North Korea has repeatedly demanded that the United States take corresponding measures, including sanctions relief, Washington has called for more concrete steps from Pyongyang toward denuclearization.
Hanoi has been gearing up for the summit with beefed-up security. Officials say the colonial-era Government Guest House in central Hanoi is expected to be the venue for the Trump-Kim meeting, with the nearby Metropole Hotel as a backup. Streets around the two places have been beautified with flowers and the flags of North Korea, the USand Vietnam.
Workers were also putting final touches on the International Media Center. Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry says some 2,600 members of the foreign press have registered for the event.
Meanwhile, Vietnam has announced a traffic ban along Kim’s possible arrival route.
The Communist Party’s mouthpiece Nhan Dan newspaper quoted the Department of Roads as saying the ban will first apply to trucks 10 tons or bigger, and vehicles with nine seats or more on the 170-kilometer (105-mile) stretch of Highway One from Dong Dang, the border town with China, to Hanoi from 7 p.m. Monday to 2 p.m. Tuesday, followed by a complete ban Tuesday on all vehicles from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The People’s Committee in Lang Son province, where the Dong Dang railway station is located, issued a statement Friday instructing the road operator to clean the highway stretch and suspend road works, among other things, on Feb. 24-28 as “a political task.”