Congress won't act before key health care deadline - Axios
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Congress won't act before key health care deadline

AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin

Insurers must decide by Wednesday whether they're going to participate in 39 states' insurance exchanges next year. And despite the turmoil already roiling those markets — double-digit premium increases are piling up nationwide, and dozens of counties won't have any plans available — Congress has run out of time to provide any help.

There are 47 counties across three states where no insurers have signed up to participate next year. More could still drop out , but none will be able to enter new markets once next week's deadline passes. Some Republicans had hoped to stabilize the Affordable Care Act's exchanges while they worked on a bigger health care bill. But party leaders aren't as concerned, and said the problem could be fixed later.

"Like anything else, there's going to be deadlines and there's going to be real deadlines," said Sen. John Thune, a member of GOP leadership. "We assume, of course, insurance companies are going to work with us and there's going to be some flexibility on their part. But we also know that we gotta move as quickly as we can."

The problem: Insurers say they still have no certainty about what the exchanges will look like next year. They're particularly concerned about whether the Trump administration will continue to pay out the ACA's cost-sharing subsidies, and have said they'll need even bigger premium increases if that money stops flowing.

  • Some Republican senators have publicly called for some kind of short-term marketplace stabilization package for the 2018 plan year, but nothing has materialized. Sen. Ron Johnson, who has been one of the members calling for such a package, said "I'm not in charge of the process" when asked about the lack of action before next week's deadline.
  • A short-term package is still possible, Sen. Rob Portman told me, but there's also interest in folding any 2018 stabilization measures into the ACA replacement bill "because that maximizes the chance of getting it all done."
  • The White House is paying out the cost-sharing subsidies for now, but hasn't made any long-term commitments. And the administration's ability to make those payments without an appropriation is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit.

Possible solutions: Many proposals to stabilize states' exchanges — such as a temporary funding boost — wouldn't do much to help the places without any insurers participating in the marketplace. So unless the rules are changed, bare counties will remain bare.

  • Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill has introduced a bill that would let people who live in bare counties use their ACA subsidy to buy coverage on the exchange that serves federal employees. GOP Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have also proposed letting those consumers take their subsidies off the exchanges. Neither proposal has gotten much traction.
  • Democratic Sens. Tim Kaine and Tom Carper introduced a bill this week to add more reinsurance funding to exchanges. Kaine told me that while he knows the chances of immediate enactment aren't good, "even if we can't do the fix in the next week or so, we can send a message to patients, to insurers, to providers, that we're going to take this seriously and that a fix is coming."
  • Many Republicans have expressed support for including temporary stabilization funding for 2018 and 2019 as part of their ACA replacement bill.
  • Republican Sen. Susan Collins said she wants a "signal...sent about the cost sharing reductions."
The consequences of inaction: People without access to any form of health insurance will inevitably be angry, and polling shows they're likely to blame the party in charge. "Republicans need to make sure that patients have access to insurance," one former GOP Senate aide told me. And if they don't, that will have political consequences: "The Democrats learned this over the past several elections."
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How Russian hackers launched a cyberattack against Ukraine

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No nation has felt the force of the Kremlin's cyber warfare more than Ukraine. In December 2015, Russian hackers shut down electricity for more than 250,000 Ukrainians, WIRED found, and the attacks have continued since.

"You can't really find a space in Ukraine where there hasn't been an attack," Kenneth Geers, a NATO ambassador who focuses on cybersecurity, told WIRED. The repeated electrical blackouts and data breaches have impacted government, military, businesses and media in Ukraine.

Why it matters: The Kremlin has made grand demonstrations of its prowess in cyber warfare by attacking its neighbor, Ukraine, to maintain dominance in the region. American intelligence leaders have expressed concerns that Russia may continue carrying out cyberattacks against the U.S. after interfering in the 2016 election. And the mayhem in Ukraine raises questions about how severe those attacks may be.
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The US photo of a close encounter with a Russian fighter jet

Master Sgt Charles Larkin Snr / U.S. European Command via AP

The U.S. has released a photo of when a Russian fighter jet flew within five feet of a U.S. Air Force reconnaissance plane earlier this week over the Baltic Sea in an unsafe maneuver. The move came just after Russia announced it would begin targeting the U.S. west of the Euphrates in an escalation of tensions in the Syrian conflict.

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Senate asks Lynch to disclose Clinton email conversations

Elise Amendola / AP

The Senate Judiciary committee has asked former AG Loretta Lynch to disclose conversations she has had with two people who were implicated in the "dubious" intel that then-FBI Director James Comey relied on before announcing the Clinton investigation was over. The Judiciary Committee is now probing into both Trump and Obama administrations.

The details:

  • The potentially fake report, which could be linked to Russia, alleged that then-DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz claimed in an email that Lynch told a Clinton staffer the FBI wouldn't probe too far into Clinton.
  • The Judiciary committee now wants to hear about Lynch's conversations with Wasserman Schultz and that staffer.
  • They also asked the staffer, Amanda Renteria, to disclose conversations she had with the FBI and Lynch about the investigation.
  • And they want Lynch to disclose any conversations she had with Clinton's campaign and the DNC about the investigation.
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Spicer: Carrier will maintain its job quota in Trump deal

Darron Cummings / AP

Sean Spicer told reporters Friday that the deal Carrier, the heating and air-conditioning manufacturer, made with Trump in November is still in tact, and that news of the company laying off more than 600 employees from its Indianapolis plant was announced last year.

Yesterday, reports surfaced that Carrier was cutting more than 600 jobs from its Indianapolis plant. Spicer clarified Friday that the lay offs were announced last year and would not affect the company's agreement to maintain the deal's 1,069 job quota.

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Justin Caldbeck takes indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital

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Venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck is taking an indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital, the Silicon Valley firm he co-founded, following allegations of unwanted sexual advances by several female entrepreneurs. He also says that he will seek professional counseling.

What follows is a statement that Caldbeck provided to Axios this afternoon.

The past 24 hours have been the darkest of my life. I have made many mistakes over the course of my career, some of which were brought to light this week. To say I'm sorry about my behavior is a categorical understatement. Still, I need to say it: I am so, so sorry.

I direct my apology first to those women who I've made feel uncomfortable in any way, at any time - but also to the greater tech ecosystem, a community that I have utterly failed.

The power dynamic that exists in venture capital is despicably unfair. The gap of influence between male venture capitalists and female entrepreneurs is frightening and I hate that my behavior played a role in perpetrating a gender-hostile environment. It is outrageous and unethical for any person to leverage a position of power in exchange for sexual gain, it is clear to me now that that is exactly what I've done.

I am deeply ashamed of my lack of self-awareness. I am grateful to Niniane, Susan, Leiti, and the other women who spoke up for providing me with a sobering look into my own character and behavior that I can no longer ignore. The dynamic of this industry makes it hard to speak up, but this is the type of action that leads to progress and change, starting with me.

I will be taking an indefinite leave of absence from Binary Capital, the firm I co-founded in 2014. I will be seeking professional counseling as I take steps to reflect on my behavior with and attitude towards women. I will find ways to learn from this difficult experience - and to help drive necessary changes in the broader venture community.

The Binary team will also be taking measures to ensure that the firm is a safe place for founders of all backgrounds to find the support and resources they need to change the world, without abuse of power or mistreatment of any person.

I owe a heartfelt apology to my family, my investors, my portfolio, and the team at Binary, who have been completely blindsided and in no way deserve the pain I've caused. But most of all I apologize again to those who I've hurt during the course of my career - and for the damage I've done to the industry I care so deeply about.

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Lawmakers ask Mattis to investigate torture of prisoners in Yemen

Cliff Owen / AP

Lawmakers have asked Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to investigate the alleged torture of prisoners in Yemen, per the AP.

The AP issued a report Thursday that the U.S. is interrogating detainees in Yemen (which the U.S. acknowledges) as part of the search for militants in al-Qaeda, but that the U.S. is interrogating them after they've been tortured by the United Arab Emirates. That would put the U.S. in violation of the International Convention Against Torture.

The intrigue of this news is that several defense officials told the AP the U.S. has already looked into the allegations of torture and was "satisfied" there wasn't any, as the AP put it. These lawmakers want a further look.

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Google will stop scanning free Gmail to target ads

Virginia Mayo / AP

The tech giant will now treat its free Gmail product the same way it treats its G Suite's enterprise products, and will use settings-based ad targeting as opposed to content scanning for ad personalization.

Why it matters: The decision likely stems from consumer concerns broadly in the U.S. about data privacy and security. In a statement, Google touted Gmail's reputation to protect users from spam, hacking, and phishing. "G Suite customers and free consumer Gmail users can remain confident that Google will keep privacy and security paramount as we continue to innovate," the statement says.

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Teen pregnancies are down as contraception use is up

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Most of the 55% of U.S. teens who have had sex by age 18 use contraceptives, and more than 80% of them used a contraceptive during their first sexual encounter, according to a new study of 4,000 teenagers by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Because of this, only 2.2% of teenage girls gave birth in 2015, down from 6.2% in 1991. In fact, the number of teenage pregnancies have steadily fallen since the peak in 1990.

Other facts:

  • Teenage sexual activity has gradually declined since a sharp drop in 2002. 44% percent of males and 42% of females aged 15-19 have had sex, down from 60% and 51% in 1988.
  • 2% of females and 7% of males said they had sex for the first time with someone they just met.
  • 74% of females and 51% of males had sex for the first time with someone they were "going steady" with.
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Comey version of firing more trusted than Trump's

Steven Senne / AP; Alex Brandon / AP

Two times as many Americans believe former FBI Director James Comey's version of events surrounding his firing than President Trump's, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.

  • By the numbers: 45% of Americans believe Comey while 22% believe Trump. The partisan breakdown is just as stark as you'd expect with Democrats preferring Comey's version of events by a 76-2 margin and Republicans siding with Trump 50-10. Independents preferred Comey's story 47-17.
  • A head scratcher: 8% of Americans say that they believe both — so different that they prompted the hiring of Bob Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation — versions of events.
  • Speaking of Russia: The poll also found that Americans believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election by a 53-36 margin — with the results predictably skewed along the same partisan lines as the Comey/Trump question.
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WH: Trump “committed” to protecting people on Medicaid

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Sean Spicer told reporters at an off-camera White House briefing Friday that Trump is "very supportive" of the Senate health bill, and has been in contact with Mitch McConnell about where the bill will go next. Spicer also addressed questions regarding Trump's position on Medicaid cuts, and stated the president is "committed" to ensuring that those currently on Medicaid don't lose coverage. Other highlights:

  • Trump on Russian interference: "Of course, he's concerned about any country or any actor that wants to interfere in our elections," said Spicer, adding that Trump's taken steps to protect the election system and cyber security, pointing to the institution of an election commission.
  • On North Korea retaliation: Trump remains hopeful the U.S. can work with China to put pressure on NK. "He remains hopeful we can find a way forward."
  • On NK claiming they didn't harm Otto Warmbier: "I don't think it's a mystery. I think we know very well what happened."
  • Policy on Qatar: "We're willing to play a facilitating role... but that's a discussion those countries need to have themselves."
  • On Carrier laying off 600+ employees: Spicer said the jobs being lost to Mexico were already planned, and that the 1,069 job quota in deal will continue.
  • On Trump firing Special Counsel Mueller: "Nothing's changed on that... he has no intention of doing that."
  • Jared Kushner and Ivanka have accepted an invitation to visit China by the end of 2017.
  • Spicer reason for no cameras at briefing: "The President gave lengthy remarks earlier."
  • Update on Rep. Steve Scalise: "Good news," said Spicer, the House Majority Whip's conditions are continuing to improve.