President Obama’s signature on the health insurance reform bill at the White House, March 23, 2010. The President signed the bill with 22 different pens (Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
8:50 PM EST: President Obama departs the White House
9:05: Departs Joint Base Andrews
The Week Ahead:
Amy Lynn Smith: Student Celebrates The ACA’s 4th Birthday With The Gift Of Coverage For $5.23/Month
On March 23, 2014, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) celebrates its fourth anniversary of being signed into law. Also known as Obamacare, the law has helped millions of Americans obtain affordable, quality coverage — many for the first time. Andreea Prundeanu, a 29-year-old doctoral candidate at Michigan State University in Lansing, is one of them. Concern about getting sick weighed heavily on her as she was working hard toward her future. She was uninsured for three years after she turned 26 and could no longer stay on her parents’ plan. Prundeanu enrolled in a Silver-level plan through Healthcare.gov. Because of her low income as a student, she was eligible for financial assistance — and now pays just $5.23 a month for coverage.
Vice President Joe Biden called employers’ ability in some states to fire employees because of their sexuality “barbaric” and “bizarre” during a keynote address at the Human Rights Campaign Gala dinner Saturday. “Hate can never be defended because it’s a so-called cultural norm,” he said. “I’ve had it up to here with cultural norms.” He called on Congress to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA, which would outlaw discrimination by most private employers against people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Yahoo: How Obama Crippled A Russian Bank With A Stroke Of A Pen
He may not take shirtless horseback rides across the steppes, or have a black belt in judo, but on Thursday, President Obama sent a message to Russian president Vladimir Putin about strength. Specifically, economic strength. The message was this: Whenever I decide to, I can pick up a pen, and kill a significant financial institution in your country. Obama’s victim was the St. Petersburg-based Bank Rossiya. In response to Russia’s takeover of the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, Obama yesterday authorized the Treasury Department to add 20 members of Putin’s inner circle, as well as Bank Rossiya, to the Office of Foreign Asset Control’s list of “specially designated nationals.”
The designation makes the individuals named ineligible to do business with U.S. financial institutions, which is likely a major personal inconvenience. But for Bank Rossiya, the designation is something like the kiss of death. Bank Rossiya is not the largest bank in Russia by a long shot, but its significance lies in its clientele rather than its size. In announcing the sanctions, the Treasury Department noted that Bank Rossiya “is the personal bank for senior officials of the Russian Federation” including members of the Ozero Dacha Cooperative, an exclusive community where members of Putin’s inner circle live. In addition, it provides financial services to the single largest segment of the Russian economy – the oil, gas, and energy sector.
Capital flight from Russia reached $35 billion in the first two months of this year, Russian Economic Development Minister Aleksei Ulyukayev said this week. That outflow has only increased in recent weeks and by the end of the first quarter, it could exceed the $65 billion capital-flight figure recorded for all of 2013, analysts say.
This trend — and other factors including likely international sanctions, the falling value of the ruble, and the costs of integrating Crimea into the Russian economy — could tip the sluggish Russian economy into recession. “The sum of these factors — the decline in investment and a slowdown in consumer demand — in my view will mean that the economy is on the edge of a recession,” says Kirill Tremasov, an economist with Nomos-Bank in Moscow. “Although you can still hear predictions from government bureaucrats that the economy might grow by 2 or 3 percent, I think these predictions are completely unfounded.”
NYT: Russian Forces Take Over The Last Ukrainian Bases In Crimea
Russian forces pushed Saturday to complete their expulsion of the Ukrainian military from the disputed Crimean Peninsula, smashing through the gates of a base here with armored vehicles, firing weapons into the air and demanding that the cornered Ukrainian soldiers surrender. The operation to seize the base — one of the Ukrainian military’s last strongholds on the peninsula — was larger and more dramatic than at other installations where Ukrainian forces have capitulated steadily in recent days as Russia declared its formal annexation of the region.
By evening, Russian forces were fully in control of the base here, and most of the Ukrainian troops were dispatched to their barracks and homes to pack. In interviews before the takeover Saturday, soldiers expressed frustration with the lack of help from the their government in Kiev. Some troops said they were defending the base as a matter of honor, having sworn to serve the people and government of Ukraine. “I took an oath,” said one commander, adding that he felt no personal antipathy toward Russia or Russians. The sense of abandonment was echoed at other bases where soldiers and marines began to pack up their belongings last week, accepting that their cause was lost.
Jonathan Cohn: The Koch Brothers Are Accidentally Advertising The Benefits Of Obamacare
Some new advertisements attacking the Affordable Care Act actually show why the law is working. The ads are running in Colorado and Louisiana, two states where incumbent Democratic senators face difficult reelection fights. They come from Americans for Prosperity, the conservative organization backed by the Koch Brothers. In short, these stories may generate sympathy but they are rarely the stuff of tragedy. And that’s because of the protections Obamacare provides—which is to say, the very things that Koch-funded right-wingers want to gut.
After all, it’s Obamacare that sets a minimum standard for insurance, so that all policies include comprehensive benefits and set limits on out-of-pocket spending. It’s Obamacare that puts coverage within financial reach of many more people than before, by offering those subsidies and then, for some people, reducing out-of-pocket expenses even more. In the old days, it wasn’t so hard to find tear-jerker anecdotes: People without insurance or with inadequate insurance were filing for bankruptcy, losing their homes, and missing out on essential medicine. Now those stories are less common and, for the most part, they are among people who had these same problems previously. Telling the stories of these people would be a rationale for expanding the Affordable Care Act, not repealing it.
Christian Caryl: President Obama Takes A Big Risk And Scores A Big Win For Democracy — And No One Gives A Damn
President Obama pulled off a master stroke this week. He deployedU.S. military force in support of an infant democracy that desperately needs our help. The result was a resounding success, a vivid illustration of how the United States can put its unchallenged power to positive ends. He did it, once again, by sending in the SEALs, the U.S. Navy’s famous special forces. But this time they weren’t double-tapping a terrorist. Instead they seized a mysterious tanker that had skipped out of Libya with a shipment of oil that one of the country’s rogue militias was trying to sell on the open market. By doing it the SEALs foiled a potentially game-changing challenge to the authority of Libya’s hard-pressed government — one of the very few in the Arab world to have actually been elected by its own country’s people.
The reaction in Washington: a giant yawn. Deafening silence from Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are always quick to demand U.S. military action in situations where it will usually make things worse. Fox News barely noticed. Nor was there a word of praise from the president’s liberal allies on Capitol Hill. Even theNew York Times ran a perfunctory report. And as for the rest of America: Well, hey, the NCAA tournament is getting under way, and there are big controversies from the world of reality TV that need attending to. The collective disinterest is even more appalling when you consider that the country we just helped is Libya. You remember, right — the place where our ambassador was killed by terrorists two years ago? The president’s critics never tire of bringing that up, since they can use it to score political points against him
Oil is Libya’s lifeblood. The economy entirely depends on it; turn off the taps and everything grinds to a halt. Make no mistake: This was not “leading from behind.” This was an act of daring from a president who’s often typecast as too passive for his own good. But it was also a smart, calculated move — a truly surgical operation of a kind that probably only the United States could have pulled off with such confidence. It sends exactly the message that needs to be sent: If you try freelancing with oil resources that rightfully belong to the Libyan people, you won’t get far.
Shake Shack, a burger chain with locations in Florida, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. as well as international locations in the Middle East, Russia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, pays starting workers $9.50 an hour outside of New York City and $10 an hour for New Yorkers, CEO Randy Garutti told ThinkProgress. It also offers full-time employees health, dental, vision, retirement, and disability benefits plus paid time off. But on average, workers get $10.70 an hour thanks to a program it calls Shack Bucks. Every month, it gives employees a percentage of the company’s top-line sales. The company pays about 70 percent of employees’ health care premiums and also matches contributions to their 401(k)s.
Michigan’s Moo Cluck Moo pays entry-level workers $15 an hour, a move its owners say leads to less turnover, better customer service, and more skilled employees. In-N-Out, a West Coast burger chain, pays $10.50 an hour for entry-level employees. Outside of the burger world, Boston-based burrito chain Boloco pays starting workers anywhere from $9 to $11 an hour, which the owner says increases loyalty and productivity and, in turn, profitability. In light of the conversation to raise the minimum wage, others have decided to join in. Two pizza companies in St. Louis will soon pay at least $10.10 an hour. It has also spread outside of the food industry: clothing retailer The Gap recently announced it will also raise its lowest wage to $10.
Sy Mukherjee: Insurance Giant Raises Its Profit Forecast Amid Surging Obamacare Enrollment
WellPoint, the insurance giant that encompasses the Anthem and Blue Cross Blue Shield brands, has raised its 2014 profit forecast after gaining more than a million new customers largely thanks to the Affordable Care Act. According to WellPoint CEO Joseph Swedish, the company now expects more than $8.20 per share in net income versus the $8.00 per share it was originally expecting, “driven by growth of 1.0 to 1.3 million net new medical members and mid-single digit percent increases in both operating revenue and operating gain.” Swedish even mentions Obamacare marketplaces specifically as a source of continuing growth.
“While it is early in 2014, we are encouraged by results thus far across our businesses and we believe [Obamacare] Exchanges are tracking our general expectations,” Swedish said in a press release. “As such, we are raising our 2014 earnings outlook… Our updated outlook reflects solid growth in membership, revenue and operating earnings. Our outlook also remains prudent in light of the dynamic nature of the marketplace, and we believe this is a point from which we will grow in the future.” WellPoint and its subsidiaries are selling policies in 14 states’ Obamacare marketplaces. Swedish has consistently been bullish about Obamacare enrollment — which surpassed five million private health plan signups earlier this week — both for this year and over the coming decade.
Nevada Medicaid enrollments under federal health care reform have surpassed initial projections and are on pace to reach 500,000 by summer, a mark initially not expected to be reached until the end of the 2015 fiscal year, a state official said. Mike Willden, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, said his agency has a backlog of 60,000 pending Medicaid applications, and he may need to speed up hiring to keep up with the demand. “We’ve doubled capacity. We really need to triple capacity,” Willden told the Board of Examiners on Tuesday. The Division of Welfare and Supportive Services began receiving electronic enrollments through Nevada’s health insurance exchange,
Nevada Health Link, in October. At the start, the agency was receiving about 121 applications per day electronically, representing about 40 percent of all Medicaid applications, Willden said. By December, “the floodgates opened” and enrollments jumped dramatically, sometimes reaching 3,000 per day, Willden said. “Since mid-December, the pipeline is wide-open and we are getting thousands of Medicaid applications each and every day,” he said. Under President Barack Obama’s health care law, states were given the option to expand Medicaid eligibility to include people up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. When the current fiscal year began July 1, Nevada had 320,000 enrolled in Medicaid. By February, that number spiked to 402,000.