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SCOTUS Hears Oral Arguments on the Future of the Affordable Care Act

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  • The Supreme Court heard another challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) Tuesday, marking the third time the law has gone to the highest court since it was passed a decade ago.
  • The most recent case, filed by Texas and other Republican-led states, focuses on a provision of the law known as the individual mandate, which requires all Americans to have health insurance or face a penalty.
  • The court had previously upheld the mandate as constitutional, arguing it amounted to a tax, but in 2017, Congressional Republicans lowered the penalty to $0.
  • Now, the Republican-led states argue that the mandate can no longer be considered a tax, and thus both the provision and the entire ACA are unconstitutional.
  • Because the Trump administration has not put forward a comprehensive replacement for the ACA, if the justices repeal the law, more than 20 million Americans would lose their health insurance during a pandemic.

Latest ACA Challenge

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday for the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), marking the start of proceedings that will decide the future of essential healthcare benefits for millions of Americans during a pandemic.

The case marks the third time that the ACA, often called Obamacare, has been brought to the highest court since it was signed into law by former President Barack Obama a decade ago. The first two attempts were rejected by the Supreme Court in 2012 and 2015 respectively.

The most recent challenge, brought by Texas and other Republican-led states and backed by the administration of President Donald Trump, centers around a provision of the law known as the individual mandate, which required all Americans to either have some kind of health insurance or pay a penalty.

That specific provision has been one of the most controversial elements of the law, and when it was brought before the justices in 2012, the court upheld the mandate 5-4 on the grounds that it amounted to a tax and thus fell under Congress’ taxing power.

But in 2017, the Republican-held Congress passed a sweeping tax bill that tweaked the individual mandate by setting the penalty for not having health care to $0. Now, the GOP-led states leading this most recent challenge are arguing that because the mandate is zeroed out and no longer raises revenues, it can no longer a tax and thus is unconstitutional.

What’s more — and this is the key part here — they are also claiming that the individual mandate is so ingrained in the ACA that it cannot be separated from the law without scrapping the whole thing. In other words: the Republican states believe that the entire ACA was rendered unconstitutional when the Republicans Congress zeroed out the mandate.

Now, notably, many legal experts do believe the argument that an entire law should be rolled back because one part is problematic is ambitious, to say the least. While some of the courts conservatives have implied that they are hesitant to get rid of the ACA entirely, the makeup of the court is very different now than it was during the other two Obamacare challenges.

Since taking office, Trump has appointed three justices to the Supreme Court, including the newly-seated Amy Coney Barrett, who has openly criticized the court’s previous rulings on the ACA in the past.

Major Consequences 

The stakes for overturning ACA are higher than ever before because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has already infected over 10 million Americans and claimed over 238,000 lives.

The U.S. is currently experiencing the worst of the pandemic, and health officials believe the situation will only become more dangerous soon. Cases and hospitalization rates are rising all across the country, new daily infections and 7-day averages have been hitting record-breaking highs, and experts now say they expect us to hit 200,000 daily cases as soon as next week.

If the justices scrap Obamacare, more than 20 million Americans — including roughly 12 million low-income Americans — would lose their healthcare overnight.

Those people would very likely be left without health insurance for a while because, despite Trump’s repeated claims for the last four years that his healthcare plan to replace Obamacare is almost ready, at least publicly, the president has proposed close to nothing on this front.

Even if it did, the divided Congress would likely have a very difficult time agreeing on any kind of deal. But the fact that there is no comprehensive program to replace Obamacare if the Supreme Court decides to get rid of it would also have other major impacts for even more Americans.

One of the most notable, of course. is how this affects pre-existing conditions. Under Obamacare, health insurers are required to cover most pre-existing conditions. If the ACA is rolled back, insurers can start denying coverage to the estimated 52 million Americans — roughly 1 out of every 4 — who have pre-existing conditions.

That is especially concerning in regards to the pandemic because is very possible that COVID-19 could become a pre-existing condition. With the ACA in place right now, insurers cannot use a coronavirus case to deny someone coverage or charge them more: it is essentially treated the same as a pre-existing condition.

However, if Obamacare no longer protects that, insurance coverage for COVID-19 will be up in the air.

The reversal of the ACA would also have other far-reaching effects, including forcing older Americans to pay more for prescriptions and cutting young adults off their parents’ healthcare plans before the age of 26, as is the law now.

While experts say it is increasingly unlikely that the court will do away with the ACA in its entirety, it is unclear what a partial repeal would impact the law and the American people.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post)

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Miami Man Gets 6 Years in Prison After Using COVID Relief Funds To Buy Lamborghini

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  • A Florida man was sentenced to more than six years in prison after fraudulently obtaining $3.9 million in COVID-19 relief funds and using that money for personal purchases.
  • Authorities said David Tyler Hines falsified federal applications to secure loans from the Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses struggling during the pandemic.
  • After receiving the funds, Hines began blowing it on jewelry, resort stays, dating websites, and even a $318,000 Lamborghini Huracan.

Hines Defrauds Government

A man in Miami, Florida, has been sentenced to more than six years in prison this week for fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars in coronavirus relief funds and using that money for personal expenses.

David Tyler Hines, 29, is accused of falsifying federal applications to secure $3.9 million in Paycheck Protection Program loans, which were meant to help small businesses stay afloat during the pandemic.

The Justice Department claims he actually requested $13.5 million in paycheck protection loans for various companies using false and fraudulent IRS forms last year. At the time, he stated the money would ensure his employees would continue to get paid throughout the state-mandated lockdowns.

According to a federal complaint, however, those employees either never existed or earned only a fraction of what he claimed to pay them.

“Collectively, Hines falsely claimed his companies paid millions of dollars in payroll the first quarter of 2020. State and bank records, however, show little to no payroll expense during this period,” the complaint adds.

Hines Makes Luxury Purchases With Funds

Authorities said that within days of securing the nearly $4 million from the federal government, Hines began blowing it on extravagant personal purchases, including jewelry, resort stays, and a $318,000 2020 Lamborghini Huracan. Two payments totaling $30,000 were also documented as going to “mom,” according to the criminal complaint, while some money also went to dating websites.

Investigators became aware of the scam after the Lamborgini was involved in a hit-and-run incident back in July. The vehicle was ultimately linked back to Hines, which kick-started the investigation.

In February, Hines pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with the scheme. As part of the sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the $3.4 million, as well as the Lamborghini

See what others are saying: (Orlando Sentinel) (Complex) (HuffPost)

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Trial for 3 Ex-Officers Charged in George Floyd Murder Pushed To March

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  • A Minnesota judge ruled Thursday that the August trial for three officers charged with aiding and abetting the murder of George Floyd will be postponed until March 2022 so a recently filed federal case can proceed first.
  • Ex-officers Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were indicted on federal civil rights charges shortly after Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter by a state jury last month.
  • In Thursday’s announcement, the judge also argued the postponement was necessary to create “some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer” regarding Chavuin’s case and upcoming sentencing.
  • No date has been scheduled for the federal trial yet, and experts have said it is unclear if it will happen before March 7, the new date set for the state case.

Judge Cahill Postpones Trial

The trial of three former Minneapolis police officers charged for their involvement in the murder of George Floyd will be pushed from August to March 2022, a judge ruled Thursday.

Thomas Lane, J. Alexander Kueng, and Tou Thao were previously facing state charges of aiding and abetting manslaughter and murder, but last week, they were indicted on additional federal civil rights charges.

The federal indictment charges Kueng and Thao with willfully failing to intervene in unreasonable use of force deployed by their fellow former colleague Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder and manslaughter last month for kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.

All four ex-officers face charges for failing to provide medical care to Floyd, “thereby acting with deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to Floyd,” according to the indictment.

In his decision, Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill said he moved the Minnesota trial so the federal case could proceed first. Notably, Cahill also cited his desire to create more distance between the state trial and the widely publicized legal proceedings against Chauvin.

“What this trial needs is some distance from all the press that has occurred and is going to occur this summer,” he said in court on Thursday.

A date for the federal trial has not yet been scheduled, it is uncertain if it would happen before March 7, the new date set by Cahill for the state trial.

The decision to file the civil rights charges against Lane, Kueng, and Thao came as surprise to many legal experts as federal indictments are not usually brought until after state cases are concluded.

The move is also unusual because Chauvin had already been convicted of murder in Minnesota. By contrast, the federal government normally only files charges in cases where they believe justice was not served at the state level.

For example, the four officers who were accused of beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1991 were only indicted on federal charges after they were acquitted in California.

Uncertainty Around Sentencing

Defense attorneys for Kueng, Lane, and Thao agreed with the judge’s decision, but state prosecutors did not support the delay, a fact that experts said could mean the three former officers are seeking a plea deal.

“One can infer that the defense attorneys are hoping that the federal case will offer lower penalties for their clients and a dismissal of the state charges,” Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor told the Associated Press.

Under Minnesota law, aiding and abetting is treated the same as the underlying crime. If the ex-officers are convicted, the state’s sentencing guidelines for people without previous criminal histories would recommend prison sentences of 12 and a half years for the murder counts and four years for the manslaughter counts.

Cahill, however, has the flexibility to increase the sentences if he finds aggravating factors, as he did with Chauvin in a ruling Wednesday.

In the decision, Cahill agreed with prosecutors that Chauvin abused his power, acted “particularly cruel” to Floyd, and committed the crime in front of children with at least three other people.

Experts say the judge is likely to give Chauvin a 30-year sentence for the second-degree murder charge, which carries a maximum of 40 years.

See what others are saying: (The Associated Press) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Ohio Will Give 5 People $1 Million for Getting Vaccinated

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  • Ohio is launching a lottery program that will give five people ages 18 or older $1 million each if they receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will win full four-year scholarships to one of the state’s public universities under a similar giveaway program. 
  • Some have criticized the move as a waste and misuse of federal coronavirus relief funds, but others applauded it as a strong effort to boost slumping vaccination rates.
  • Gov. Mike DeWine (R) addressed critics on Twitter, writing, “The real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Ohio Announces Vaccine Lottery

Several states and cities across the country have been rolling out different incentives to help boost COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some are offering $100 savings bonds, $50 prepaid cards, and even free alcohol, but Ohio’s Republican Gov. Mike DeWine took it a step further Wednesday, saying that five people in his state will each win $1 million for getting vaccinated.

DeWine said that the lottery program, named “Ohio Vax-a-Million,” will be open to residents 18 and older who receive at least one dose. Drawings start May 26 and winners will be pulled from the state’s voter registration database.

The Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings, but the money will come from existing federal coronavirus relief funds.

Younger people will also have a chance to win something. That’s because DeWine said five vaccinated people between 12 and 17 years old will be eligible to win a full four-year scholarship to one of the state’s public universities under a similar lottery program. The portal to sign up for that opens May 18.

DeWine Defends Lottery

Reactions to the giveaway have been mixed. Some echoed statements from State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, who said, “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis.”

DeWine, however, seems to have anticipated pushback like this.

“I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,'” he tweeted. “But truly, the real waste at this point in the pandemic — when the vaccine is readily available to anyone who wants it — is a life lost to COVID-19.”

Despite some backlash, a ton of other people have applauded the plan as a smart way to encourage vaccinations across all age groups. So far, about 36%of Ohio’s population has been fully vaccinated — compared with 35% nationally. 

Still, the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, which is down from figures above 80,000 in April. 

See what others are saying: (AP News) (NPR)(The New York Times)

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