In Other News…Paul joins Trump on Executive Order, Alberta Jones, a horse walks into a Super 8, Lawrence wins Lansing Award Friday, Oct 13 2017 

Friends Again: President Trump signed a new health care Executive Order on Thursday, says TIME. The president contends it will make lower-premium plans available that do not need to meet Affordable Care Act requirements. It also provides individuals the option of pooling together to be able to buy as a group. By his side, Kentucky […]

With Support From Rand Paul, Trump Revives Association Health Plans With Troubled Past Thursday, Oct 12 2017 

Association health plans that sell limited-coverage health insurance are back, under an executive order signed by President Donald Trump Thursday. Trump — as well as Kentucky’s two U.S. senators — touted the order as one that will allow Americans to access more affordable health care policies, but critics say the executive order could create more problems in the U.S. health care system.

Association health plans are formed by groups of people, small businesses or trade groups. They can form across state lines, and  proponents say the formation of these groups would give people power to negotiate better insurance prices.

But before the Affordable Care Act, these plans typically offered skimpy benefits and weren’t subject to state regulations. After the ACA was passed in 2010, it effectively killed these association health plans by requiring insurers to offer certain essential health benefits. Those included eliminating daily and annual caps on what the insurance would pay — caps which were often included in association plans.

These plans have long been touted by Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who over the past several months has gone against most of his Republican colleagues in opposing numerous measures to  repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. He is against upholding the ACA and keeping funding for the program, and he said association plans will give people an additional option.

“We think this holds great potential. There’s 11 million people in the individual market who are terrified of what they have,” Paul said in a news conference Thursday. “We want to let them join a group, and be able to bid prices down.”

And now that association plans are back, some are worried healthy people will flock to them in search of a better deal.

Limited Benefits, Unbalanced Risk Pools

Before the Affordable Care Act, association health plans could duck state insurance regulations, which were often more stringent than federal ones. And they did.

Tony Stuart is a California-based lawyer who won many cases on behalf of consumers who racked up big medical debt because these association health plans would not pay for many claims.

“[Association health plans are] a combination of limited benefit plans that don’t measure up to real health insurance. People get fooled,” Stuart said. “They think they’re buying health insurance, and they’re really not.”

Before the ACA passed, insurance with these plans was relatively cheap. And that was because the benefits were very skimpy, according to Stuart.

“In these particular companies’ policies, the chemotherapy coverage would cover $1,000 a day, and no more,” Stuart said. “Which was ridiculous because chemotherapy can cost $30,000 in a single day.”

Besides potentially causing problems for people who have the plans, association plans could create issues for people who stick with the marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act.

Timothy Jost is a professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law who specializes in health care. He said the ACA was specifically created to include both healthy and sick people to balance out the risk. But historically, association health plans often excluded sick people.

“They were happy to insure healthy people, but they had control over membership and discourage unhealthy people from applying or accepting them at all,” Jost said.

Jost said this could happen by creating membership requirements, like belonging to a certain gym.

And if the only people on the federal government’s Healthcare.gov marketplace are sick people who don’t qualify for association plans, this could stress the system with high-dollar medical claims.

President Trump said three government agencies will create regulations to set standards for these plans. The details haven’t been released yet, so there is the possibility that some of the ACA protections will remain in place. But that process will likely take months as the government will have to go through a comment period.

Rand Paul still a ‘no’ on Graham-Cassidy bill; calls amendments shifting Medicaid funds to swing senators ‘suspicious’ Monday, Sep 25 2017 

Sen. Rand Paul told reporters in Louisville on Monday that he remained opposed to the Graham-Cassidy bill expected to be voted on in the U.S. Senate this week, which is billed as another Republican effort to fulfill their promise to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Paul had already expressed his opposition to the […]

Some Big Names To Skip Fancy Farm But Politics, BBQ Still On Menu Tuesday, Jul 25 2017 

(Featured image: Crowd at Fancy Farm 2016)

The annual Fancy Farm picnic and political speaking event takes place next week in far-west Kentucky’s Graves County.

Though no major elections are scheduled to take place this year, state political leaders will still roll up their shirt sleeves and hurl insults at each other during the 137th iteration of the charity event.

Gov. Matt Bevin has declined an invitation to speak, citing a scheduling conflict. That means a public showdown between the Republican governor and Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear will have to wait for another year.

Beshear says he will be in attendance — he missed the event last year to attend a family event.

Other confirmed speakers include Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover, Democratic House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins and Republican U.S. Rep. James Comer, whose district includes the area.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul have not confirmed their attendance and are expected to be absent because the regularly scheduled August recess for Congress has been pushed back to allow Republicans time to hash out an Obamacare repeal plan.

St. Jerome’s Catholic Church has hosted the Fancy Farm Picnic since its inception in the 1880s. Each year, volunteers barbecue several tons of pork and mutton to sell to more than 10,000 attendees.

The political portion of the event has evolved into a raucous affair where speakers insult and tease opponents while the crowd heckles and chants.

There are no statewide or legislative races scheduled this year, which could dampen the frenetic energy of recent Fancy Farm picnics.

Last year’s picnic was notable because of the presidential election, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray’s challenge of incumbent Sen. Rand Paul and races for the state House of Representatives —  which ultimately led to Republicans gaining control of the chamber for the first time in nearly a century.

The year before, Bevin defied expectations by winning a crowded primary election and later winning the Kentucky governorship, becoming only the second Republican to do so in more than four decades.

Bevin criticized the bombastic tone of the Fancy Farm speeches over the last two years, though the rowdy atmosphere hasn’t abated.

This year’s event will be emceed by former Democratic House Speaker Bobby Richardson, who left the General Assembly in 1990.

Recent emcees have alternated between representatives of the two major political parties — Republican operative Scott Jennings last year, and Kentucky Sports Radio Host Matt Jones, a Democrat, the year before.

The picnic will be held on Saturday, August 5 at 10 a.m. CST with the political speaking beginning at 2 p.m. and aired live on KET.

Other confirmed speakers include:

  • State Sen. Stan Humphries, Republican
  • State Rep. Richard Heath, Republican
  • U.S. Rep. James Comer, Republican
  • House Speaker Jeff Hoover, Republican
  • House Minority Leader Rocky Adkins, Democrat
  • Attorney General Andy Beshear, Democrat
  • Agriculture Commission Ryan Quarles, Republican
  • State Auditor Mike Harmon, Republican

Organizers are still waiting for confirmation from the following:

  • U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican
  • U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, Republican
  • Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, Democrat
  • Treasurer Allison Ball, Republican
  • Lt. Governor Jenean Hampton, Republican
  • State Senate President Robert Stivers, Republican

Rand Paul asked VA to meet with UofL president to discuss Jewish Hospital alternative for replacement VA hospital Wednesday, Jul 19 2017 

Sen. Rand Paul asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in June to meet with University of Louisville interim President Greg Postel to discuss an idea he had pitched to Paul weeks earlier — that the VA consider buying the downtown Jewish Hospital from KentuckyOne Health as the site for a replacement VA hospital instead […]

Rand Paul Doesn’t Support GOP Health Bill Thursday, Jun 22 2017 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has unveiled the newest version of a bill to replace many provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

Negotiations over the much-anticipated bill were held in private, with even some Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul criticizing the secretive process “with little time to fully evaluate the proposal.”

Paul issued a statement Thursday saying he wasn’t ready to vote in favor of the new bill because it doesn’t fully repeal Obamacare.

“It does not keep our promises to the American people,” Paul said. “I will oppose it coming to the floor in its current form, but I remain open to negotiations.”

A vote on the measure is expected next week.

If no Democrats vote in favor of the bill, McConnell can only afford to lose two votes out of the 52 Republicans in the Senate. In case of a tie, Vice President Mike Pence would have the option to cast a tie-breaker.

The proposal would by 2024 phase out funding for states like Kentucky that elected to expand their Medicaid programs under Obamacare.

It would also end the requirement for people to buy health insurance, and employers of a certain size would no longer have to provide coverage for employees. It would eliminate taxes on the wealthy and insurance companies, but keep a provision that allows parents to keep their children on their insurance plans until age 26.

During a speech on the Senate Floor Thursday, McConnell said the plan was the product of dozens of meetings.

“It’s time to act,” McConnell said. “Because Obamacare is a direct attack on the middle class and American families deserve better than its failing status quo.”

He also chided Democrats for indicating they wouldn’t support the Republican-crafted plan.

“They can choose to keep standing by as their failing law continues to collapse and hurt more Americans, but I hope they will join us instead to bring more relief to families who have struggled under Obamacare for far too long,” McConnell said during his Senate remarks.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, a Democrat from Louisville, criticized the proposal for its tax breaks and changes to Medicaid.

“Any senator who votes for this bill is clearly prioritizing a meaningless political victory over the health and livelihoods of the American people,” Yarmuth said in a statement.

McConnell blames the Affordable Care Act for rising health insurance premiums and says insurance companies pulling out of Obamacare markets show that the program is not working.

In Kentucky, five companies that sold insurance on Kentucky’s health exchange in 2016 pulled out of the program for 2017. The Kentucky Department of Insurance approved requests by the remaining companies to charge higher premiums.

The proposal, which is dubbed the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” would change how states fund their Medicaid programs by shifting to block grants or per capita caps on spending.

The bill would also let states apply waivers to disregard some mandates of the Affordable Care Act, like the law’s ban on insurance companies charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

After the bill was announced, videos showed protesters being forcibly removed from outside McConnell’s Capitol office.

“U.S. Capitol Police handles security in the Capitol complex,” said McConnell press secretary, Stephanie Penn, when asked for comment about the protests.

Rand Paul recounts harrowing baseball practice shooting where Majority Whip was wounded Wednesday, Jun 14 2017 

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is uninjured after a shooting at a baseball field in Alexandria, Va., where Republican Congress members were practicing for a coming Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, which was scheduled for Thursday. Representative Steve Scalise was shot. Scalise is the House Majority Whip. Five people were taken to area hospitals, including the shooter. Witnesses reported […]

Sen. Rand Paul offering resolution to halt part of new $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia Thursday, May 25 2017 

Sen. Rand Paul will soon offer a bipartisan floor resolution in the Senate objecting to a portion of the Trump administration’s new $110 billion military arms deal with Saudi Arabia, arguing such weapons will likely exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen and damage America’s national security. In a media conference call on Thursday, Paul and Democratic […]

Rand Paul Pans Sessions’ ‘Tough On Crime’ Prosecution Policy Friday, May 12 2017 

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul is criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions for directing federal prosecutors to charge defendants with the most serious crimes they can pursue.

The new guidelines are a departure from an Obama-era policy that eased prosecutions of people with non-violent drug offenses.

In 2013, then-Attorney General Eric Holder directed prosecutors to avoid charging people with crimes that carry mandatory minimum sentences, which require judges to impose lengthier prison terms.

In a statement, Paul said the reprisal of the “tough on crime” policy isn’t a good idea.

“Mandatory minimum sentences have unfairly and disproportionately incarcerated too many minorities for too long,” Paul said. “Attorney General Sessions’ new policy will accentuate that injustice. Instead, we should treat our nation’s drug epidemic as a health crisis and less as a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’ problem.”

Paul has pushed for reforms to the criminal justice system, including reduction of mandatory minimum sentences on drug crimes, expungement of felony records and restoration of voting rights, though the proposals haven’t garnered enough support to get a floor vote.

However, Paul voted in favor of Sessions’ confirmation earlier this year. Sessions has repeatedly criticized the Obama administration for being “soft on crime” and accused the former president’s policies of leading to violent crimes.

Sessions’ policy amounts to a return to strategies conceived under former Attorney General John Ashcroft, who directed federal prosecutors to charge people with the most serious crimes possible.

Under the Obama-era policy, defendants who didn’t belong to large drug trafficking organizations qualified to be charged with crimes that didn’t carry long mandatory minimum sentences.

This week, Sessions issued a memo to Department of Justice staff ordering federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense.”

“This policy affirms our responsibility to enforce the law, is moral and just, and produces consistency,” Sessions wrote. “This policy fully utilizes the tools Congress has given us.”

Prosecutors who wish to not pursue the most serious charges possible would have to get approval from a U.S. attorney or assistant attorney general.

Kerry Harvey, who was the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Kentucky until earlier this year, said implementation of the policy will depend on each U.S. attorney’s office.

“But on the face of it you would expect that the sentences, particularly in drug trafficking cases, would be longer,” Harvey said.

Rand Paul Calls Syria Airstrikes Unconstitutional Friday, Apr 7 2017 

Sen. Rand Paul has come out against President Donald Trump’s decision to attack Syria on Thursday, calling it unconstitutional.

“The president really doesn’t have the authority under the constitution to initiate war,” Paul said during an interview on Fox Business on Friday.

The U.S. military launched the surprise airstrike on a Syrian airfield Thursday evening. The move came in response to a chemical weapons attack on civilians the administration believes was launched by the country’s embattled leader, Bashar Assad, and killed dozens of people.

The U.S. has conducted airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria since 2014, but Thursday’s is the first against the Syrian government.

Paul has long spoken out against the U.S. taking military action in Syria and the Middle East. On Friday, he warned that the attack could strain relations with Russia, a close ally of Syria’s.

“The ramifications could be extreme — they may not — but there is a great danger in bumping up against another nuclear power,” Paul said.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, a Republican representing northern and eastern Kentucky, also voiced opposition to Trump’s attack, via Twitter.

“President Trump should have sought Congressional approval for so many reasons starting with ‘the #Constitution requires it,'” Massie tweeted.

Meanwhile, Kentucky’s other U.S. Senator, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, threw his support behind Trump’s actions.

“The strike was well-planned, well-executed, was certainly more than a pin-prick and sends a message not only to Assad that using chemical weapons again is something he cannot do with impunity,” McConnell said during a news conference on Friday.

McConnell notably opposed President Barack Obama’s failed request in 2013 for an authorization to use military force against the Syrian government.

On Friday, McConnell said he couldn’t see a resolution to the Syrian conflict that keeps Assad in power.

“I just can’t imagine after all the butchering of his own people that he’s been doing now for four, five years that there could be any successful conclusion to this chaos with him still there,” McConnell said.

U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, the only Democratic member of Kentucky’s federal delegation, issued a statement in support of the strike against Syria, which he said was in response to “criminal and inhumane actions.”

But he also called on Trump to seek Congressional approval for future actions against the country.

“I hope that Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell will move quickly to seek the congressional approval of yesterday’s action, so that the constitutional prerogatives of Congress’s war-making authority are asserted,” Yarmuth said. “No escalation of military activity in Syria or the region can proceed without explicit congressional approval.”

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