Archive for category pat toomey

Where Morganelli stands on Toomey questioner’s 1st Amendment rights

A participant in a televised town hall asked if the senator had heard news that his teenage daughter was kidnapped.

An audience member removed from a televised town hall with U.S…

Pat Toomey renews call for firearms background checks, after Vegas massacre

The Republican from Pennsylvania reiterated his support for a stalled effort, while Democrat Bob Casey wants much more.

Pennsylvania loses billions under health care bill, analysts say

The legislation, due for a vote next week, would give Pennsylvania two years to figure out what to do.

Pennsylvania would be one of the states hit the hardest under U.S. Senate l…

Toomey Impresses at PBS Town Hall

US Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa) conducted a rare town hall last night at the Steelstacks’ PBS studios before an audience of exactly 54 people. Outside there were 23 uniformed police officers and about 35 protesters. My report on the town hall is now publi…

Toomey Town Hall at PBS

US Senator Pat Toomey will conduct a televised town hall at the Steelstacks PBS Studios at 7 pm. This is open to ticketed members of the public only. I’ll be covering this for The Bethlehem Press. I received a telephone call from someone in Toomey’s of…

Winners and losers complicate GOP’s path on health care bill

The measure tweaks a proposal crafted behind closed doors by a senators including the Lehigh Valley’s Pat Toomey.

Republicans’ latest health care plan would create winners and losers among Americans up and down the income ladder, and across age groups.

It would give consumers more responsibility for their insurance choices, a goal long held by conservatives who argue that’s key to a true health care market. Younger adults and healthy people in the solid middle class may find more agreeable options. But low-income people may not be able to afford coverage, along with older and sicker adults.

And there are potential unintended consequences for people with employer-provided insurance, currently about 170 million Americans. Allowing individuals to pay premiums from tax-sheltered accounts may create incentives for employers to stop offering coverage, say some independent analysts.

The measure tweaks the proposal crafted behind closed doors by a Senate panel that included U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and which was unveiled June 22.

Today, the Senate unveiled an updated draft of our #BetterCare bill, which aims to address Obamacare’s failures. Read my statement: pic.twitter.com/njvKFFGZfo

— Senator Pat Toomey (@SenToomey) July 13, 2017

The bill would put limits on federal spending for Medicaid, a partnership program with states to cover low-income people, the disabled and nursing home residents. The drawback is that state officials could eventually face no-win choices, such as having to pick between paying for coverage for low-wage working mothers and support services for elderly people trying to stay out of nursing homes.

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., steers toward debate and votes next week, here is a look at some of the latest changes and major issues:

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CRUZ’S PLAN

The new Senate bill incorporates the core of a proposal from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, that would reorganize the market for policies purchased by individuals. As many as 20 million Americans get coverage this way, about half through subsidized markets like HealthCare.gov, created under former President Barack Obama.

Cruz would change basic requirements that Obama’s law imposed on individual plans, including standard benefits such as pregnancy, maternity and newborn care; wellness visits and mental health treatment. The law also requires the same premium rates for sick and healthy people.

Under the Cruz approach, an insurer can offer plans that don’t comply with such requirements, provided they also offer coverage that does. The problem, say critics, is that the healthy would flock to low-premium, skimpy plans, leaving the sick to face escalating prices for comprehensive coverage.

“Healthy people would have opportunities to buy lower-premium, skinnier plans, while people with pre-existing conditions not eligible for premium subsidies could find themselves priced out of insurance,” said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

The latest bill includes another $70 billion to help states keep health insurance affordable for older, sicker customers. But it’s not clear how those backstops would work, and the federal funding eventually would end.

Next week the Senate is going to vote on legislation to save Americans from the ObamaCare DISASTER. #WeeklyAddress[?] [?] pic.twitter.com/xjVDkgo1NK

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 15, 2017

Some insurers are worried because of a technical change with huge practical implications: Health plans that enroll healthier customers would no longer have to cross-subsidize those with sicker patients, as is currently required.

“We think it is unworkable,” said Justine Handelman, top Washington lobbyist for the BlueCross BlueShield Association. She predicted skyrocketing costs for taxpayers also, stuck with the bill for sicker patients.

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EMPLOYER ESCAPE HATCH?

McConnell’s new bill made a major change to tax-sheltered health savings accounts, which was also advocated by Cruz.

Under the bill, health savings accounts could be used to pay premiums with pre-tax money. Under current law, they can only be used to cover out-of-pocket costs, such as deductibles and copayments.

The change is meant to level the playing field for people buying individual plans, as compared to people getting employer coverage. The value of workplace insurance is tax-free for employees and tax-deductible for employers.

But some analysts say McConnell risks undermining workplace coverage.

WATCH: Toomey protesters blast Medicaid cuts

The upside is that the change might encourage more self-employed people to buy individual health insurance policies. The downside is that some employers may see it as an invitation to drop health benefits, particularly since the GOP also would repeal Obama’s requirement that larger companies provide health care or face fines.

“Allowing individuals to purchase insurance with pre-tax dollars eliminates one of the advantages to employer-provided insurance,” said Elizabeth Carpenter of the Avalere Health consulting firm. “That may lead some employers to consider whether or not they want to continue to offer health insurance.”

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THE POOR AND THE SICK

McConnell kept some of the Obama-era tax increases used by Democrats to finance expanded coverage. But the money will be going to shore up private insurance, not the Medicaid program. Medicaid accounts for half or more of the 20 million Americans gaining coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid covers low-income people, from many pregnant women and newborns, to disabled people and many elderly nursing home residents. The GOP bill would start by phasing out enhanced federal financing for Obama’s Medicaid expansion, adopted by 31 states. Perhaps more significantly, it would limit future federal funding for the overall program. As a result, it’s estimated Medicaid would cover 15 million fewer people by 2026.

The bill would add $45 billion to help states confronting the opioid epidemic pay for treatment and recovery. But that hasn’t swayed the American Medical Association, which points out that people in recovery also need comprehensive health insurance.

Republican governors don’t like the Medicaid cuts, and some have been vocal. About half the states that expanded Medicaid now have GOP chief executives.

Governors on both sides of the aisle express concern, even some outright opposition to Senate GOP health care bill https://t.co/FR10d8Pzco pic.twitter.com/sh2cgFFmYU

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 15, 2017

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican who oversaw a Medicaid expansion, said more than 200,000 people gained coverage in his state.

“You think about 210,000 men, women and children, senior citizens, the drug addicted, the chronically ill,” Sandoval said. “These are people that used to get their treatment in emergency rooms, if they got any treatment at all. I keep going back to the fact that they are living a better quality of life.”

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Senate health bill adds 22 million uninsured, budget office finds

Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey called the proposal “obscene .. unconscionable” following the new report.

The Senate Republican health care bill would leave 22 million more Americans uninsured in 2026 than under President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday, in a blow to GOP leaders’ hopes of pushing the plan through the chamber this week.

The CBO coverage estimates pose yet another problem for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who unveiled the legislation last Thursday. By Friday afternoon, he was facing public statements of opposition from five GOP senators — three more defections than he can afford and still win approval for the legislation over united Democratic opposition. Others have expressed concerns.

The 22 million additional people without coverage under the Senate proposal is just a hair better than the 23 million who’d be left without insurance under the measure the House approved last month, the budget office has estimated. President Donald Trump has called the House version “mean” and called on Senate Republicans to approve legislation with more “heart.”

Of the 22 million, 15 million of them would have no insurance next year, the nonpartisan budget office said. That could be a particular concern to Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., who faces perhaps the toughest 2018 re-election race of any Senate Republican and who’s said he can’t support a health care package that cuts Medicaid like the GOP plan and takes coverage from “tens of millions of Americans and tens of thousands of Nevadans.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and several other moderate GOP senators have also expressed concerns about the measure’s impact on coverage. On the other hand, four conservatives have said they oppose the current version of the bill for not doing enough to reduce premiums.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., issued a statement blasting the bill’s impact on middle class families: 

“Obscene. Unconscionable. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has just confirmed that Pennsylvania families will pay higher costs for less care with fewer protections under the Senate Republican health care scheme in order to lavish the wealthiest with tax cuts. Many wealthy people who would receive these tax cuts don’t want them if it means a child loses Medicaid protections. Despite the deliberately misleading statements from the backers of this legislation, it is now clearer than ever that this proposed plan would decimate Medicaid, impose an age tax and hike premiums, while risking job loss at rural hospitals. And for those families struggling with the opioid crisis, this bill pulls the rug right out from under them.

“The CBO has exposed this shameful piece of legislation for what it is: an unprecedented selling out of our middle class families, children, seniors and individual with disabilities. It’s time for the Administration and congressional Republicans to reverse course and work in a bipartisan way to make health care more affordable.”

The budget office report said it believes the Senate bill “would increase the number of uninsured people substantially. The increase would be disproportionately larger among older people with lower income” — especially those between 50 and 64 and with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, or around $30,300 for a single person. Those ages are just shy of when people begin qualifying for Medicare coverage.

Toomey: Senate bill addresses Obamacare flaws

Earlier Monday, Republican leaders added a penalty to their bill for people who’ve had at least a 63-day gap in coverage during the past year. Under that proposal, if they then buy insurance, they would face a six-month delay before it takes effect. The budget office said its estimate included the impact of that addition.

The change was aimed at helping insurance companies and the insurance market by discouraging healthy people from waiting to buy a policy until they get sick. Insurers need healthy customers who are inexpensive to cover to help pay the costs of people with medical conditions that are costly to treat.

You can now read the updated Better Care Reconciliation Act draft here: https://t.co/uZP5NfrcfX

— Senator Pat Toomey (@SenToomey) June 26, 2017

The Senate bill would roll back much of Obama’s health care overhaul. His statute pressures people to buy insurance by imposing a tax penalty on those who don’t, but the Republican legislation would repeal that penalty, effectively erasing Obama’s so-called individual mandate.

The House approved its legislation in May. It would require insurers to boost premiums by 30 percent for those whose coverage lapsed.

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Senate GOP unveils ‘Obamacare’ overhaul, but not all aboard

The 142-page proposal was crafted in secret by a Senate panel that included Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Senate Republicans launched their plan for shriveling Barack Obama’s health car…

Federal funding in limbo for Valley’s largest open space preservation

A public-private partnership aims to add 4,662 acres of the Kittatinny Ridge to Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Watch video

It was equal parts celebration and rally Monday at a picturesque overlook atop the Blue Mountain’s Kittatinny Ridge that separates Northampton and Monroe counties.

The goal is the Lehigh Valley region’s largest-ever land-conservation acquisition, of 4,662 acres along the ridge. Pennsylvania American Water Co. earlier this year completed the sale of 1,291 of the acres to The Conservation Fund, and hopes to do the same with the remaining 3,371 acres.

Surrounding 5 miles of the Appalachian Trail, the acreage is proposed to be added to the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, opened in 2008. The protected land is part of a watershed for Pennsylvania American Water’s customers. Along with the 1,291 acres already preserved, the 3,371 acres would be owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and opened for public recreational use.

Here’s where the rally portion comes in:

The purchase of the remaining acreage won’t happen without $3.5 million from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, made up of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties and not tax dollars. 

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, a Democrat whose 17th Congressional District in Pennsylvania covers part of Northampton County, attended Monday’s celebration of the 1,291 acres’ preservation. He also voiced his commitment to the remaining funding’s release, as did representatives of U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Bob Casey, D-Pa.

“I am cautiously optimistic about this funding continuing to flow,” Cartwright said. “It’s not really a political football, it’s a bipartisan wish that we keep this project going and that we continue to preserve and protect land in the way that they have done here at Cherry Valley.”

The federal portion is part of the $12.5 million price tag for the land. It includes $2.2 million that would be appropriated as early as this week as Congress and the Trump Administration try to work out a funding package to avoid a government shutdown. The other $1.3 million would be part of the budget for Fiscal Year 2018.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund is among the programs set to be reduced or eliminated under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Cartwright said.

“Jeopardy might be a strong word, but it is an ongoing process,” he said about securing the funding. “Every year we have to fund the government. In fact, even this week we may shut down the government over a squabble about whether we construct a wall on our southern border. I hate to see the government shut down over something like that, but that is a distinct possibility. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”

In addition to the federal portion, the remaining $9 million has been committed by the Middle Delaware Mitigation Fund established by utility companies PPL Corp. and PSE&G; Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Wal-Mart Acres for America funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation; the Open Space Institute and Northampton County open space dollars. 

“This keystone project, which will be the largest conservation acquisition in this region’s history, will protect our drinking water, secure critical habitat for migratory birds and create additional recreational opportunities for both residents and visitors to the great Lehigh Valley,” said Kyle Shenk, Pennsylvania state director for The Conservation Fund — the nonprofit working to acquire the property for its federal partners.

“The protection of this first phase is a tremendous conservation achievement, which is well worth celebrating unto itself,” Shenk continued, “but we’re also here today to look forward to securing the remaining 3,300 acres for transfer to permanent ownership as part of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge. … But this second phase will not be possible without the fulfillment of a $3.5 million funding request in the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or the LWCF.”

The Cherry Valley refuge was established, in part, to protect the federally listed threatened bog turtle. It’s also an important bird area home to breeding populations and globally significant for migratory species, as well as home to at least 77 vernal pools vital to amphibians. Its springs supply clean water to wetlands and streams in the Delaware River watershed. 

“This opportunity to protect relatively undisturbed tracts of upland forest that supports migrating birds and habitat and headwater streams is really rare today, to be able to preserve such a large tract of land,” said Lauren Imgrund, deputy secretary of the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Golf course closes, to become wildlife refuge

The land is in addition to the nearly 200-acre Cherry Valley Golf Course, acquired earlier this year by The Nature Conservancy to be added to the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge, and roughly 180-acre tract behind Sorrenti Cherry Valley Vineyard. As with other parts of the refuge, the 4,662 acres would be open to activities such as hiking, wildlife photography and wildlife observation, said Mike Horne, manager at the Cherry Valley refuge for the Fish and Wildlife Service. 

“We have about 2,100 acres, most of which is open to the public,” Horne said. “The only reason we would close an area down for public access would be if there were a threatened or endangered species in there that we had concerns about.”

He called the new acquisition “a major increase in public use opportunity for both Northampton and Monroe counties.”

“The best place to access it right now is at the Appalachian Trail parking lot in Wind Gap,” Horne said. “So once you enter the trail proper and head east, you’re actually on the property that we’re talking about today.”

Under ownership by Pennsylvania American Water, the land was posted no-trespassing, Horne said. Though it’s still a drinking water source, federal preservation is in line with the company’s protection philosophy, said Marc Cross, production manager for the utility.

Cross cut a ribbon Monday to celebrate the conservation acquisition, helping Cartwright, the congressman, wield an oversized pair of scissors. The event was hosted by Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center, on Fox Gap Road just off Route 191 in Upper Mount Bethel Township, atop the Kittatinny Ridge looking south across Northampton County. 

County Executive John Brown touched on the economic impacts of land preservation, saying nearly $800 million is spent on outdoor recreation annually in the Lehigh Valley, creating more than 9,600 jobs and generating $59 million in state and local taxes.

“As we stand here today along the Kittatinny Ridge, the gateway from the Lehigh Valley to the Poconos, we’re proud to assist in the single-largest acquisition of protected lands in Northampton County and the Lehigh Valley,” he said.

<a href=”https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3677072/Map-Cherry-Valley-NWR.pdf”>Map Cherry Valley NWR (PDF)</a>
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<a href=”https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/3677072/Map-Cherry-Valley-NWR.txt”>Map Cherry Valley NWR (Text)</a>

Kurt Bresswein may be reached at kbresswein@lehighvalleylive.com. Follow him on Twitter @KurtBresswein. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.

Teacher wants to ‘buy’ Toomey’s vote on DeVos confirmation

The GoFundMe campaign will actually support arts and education programs.

It’s unlikely that a $60,000-plus fundraising campaign will sway the Pennsylvania senator.
But the t…