Category: Laws In The Works

Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 (H.R 1865)

Fighting sex trafficking is not a new endeavor. In the world’s dark history of slavery, sex trafficking has always been there.. As a nation, we have laws and penalties in place to prevent and punish such behavior but they are by no means foolproof. Enter into the law books, H.R. 1865, which will help close a glaring gap between old legislation and the fast-paced technological world we live in.

Way back in 1934, a law was passed in an attempt to protect mass media forms so they could flourish. For instance, a radio station couldn’t be held liable if they played a commercial that contained false advertising or if the product harmed others. From an industry standpoint, this makes perfect sense: media are in the business of spreading information, entertainment, etc. They are not in the business of verifying the products and services that pay them for advertising. In 1996, the Communications Act was amended to include websites so that they were also protected from liability for content that they published but was not actually created by them. As you can imagine, this protection was never meant to shield websites from publishing content which thereby facilitated in sex trafficking. And since you are legally responsible if you allow or facilitate underage-drinking in your home, no matter who supplied the alcohol, certainly we should hold websites liable for publishing content which facilitates criminal behavior. It’s just common sense.

H.R. 1865 will work to fix the current loophole by:

  1. Imposing a fine or up to 10 years in prison, or both
  2. For instances where 5 or more victims are involved and “reckless disregard” is shown, the prison term may be up to 25 years.
  3. Victims may be able to sue for damages and attorney fees in a U.S. district court
  4. Restitution will be ordered by the court when 5 or more victims are involved and this will be in addition to civil or criminal penalties.

As much as I hate to write it, there is a section which allows for an approved defense that the promotion or facilitation of sex trafficking is legal where it occurred. It makes me sick to my stomach that it’s legal ANYWHERE but that’s the globally connected world we live in.

This law is not meant to limit any charges brought under State law and the amendments will be apply to all violations of the law no matter if they happened before or after the enactment of this law. State Attorneys General also have the authority to bring civil action against violators of this law if they believe it has negatively affected the residents of their State.

In order to measure the success of this law, a report will be published 3 years after the law in enacted. This report will detail civil actions in which damages were awarded, actions in which damages were not awarded, all restitution ordered by the Court, and details regarding the status of every entity convicted of violating this law and whether or not they were ordered to pay restitution.

While this legislation is in regards to sex trafficking, not all human trafficking involves the sex trade. See below for possible indicators of trafficking victims. Contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline1-888-373-7888 to report a tip or ask questions. Information is also available on state.gov.

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Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2017 (H.R. 931)

It’s no surprise that some professions come with a higher rate of cancer diagnoses than others and registries are becoming a common way to study this issue. While registries like the Veterans Affairs’ “Burn Pit Registry” seeks to document an occurrence of an occupational hazard, there is no question that our nation’s firefighters are frequently exposed to smoke, chemicals, and other fire-related hazards. This bill will set up a registry to collect, compile, and analyze the actual rate of cancer among firefighters. There are state registries already, but just like we learn in high school statistics class, the larger the pool of information, the more accurate your analysis will be.

The owner of this registry, so-to-speak, will be the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS Secretary) but will be carried out with the help of the Center for Disease Control (CDC). This registry will be used to make and improve current actions which study cancer diagnoses in firefighters. The information will be collected, put into a more simple format for study, stored, and then released as public information… don’t worry though, all personal identifying information will be removed before public release. This is pretty standard and a no-brainer.

The bill suggests things that should be reported in the registry, such as:

  1. Some sort of identifying information (this helps keep information consolidated and avoid duplicate entries)
  2. Age of firefighter
  3. Position (volunteer, paid-on-call, or career)
  4. Number of years on the job and all other job information prior to, during, or after service
  5. The number of fires attended (or an estimate if not available) and the type of building (residential vs commercial)
  6. Other risk factors to include smoking or other drug use
  7. Physical exam and medical history that is related to the cancer diagnosis

Because this is a national registry, it will be given the ability to link to State registries in order to get information like the date of the diagnosis, source of that information, and details on the type and stage of cancer.

The HHS Secretary is directed to create a plan to “maximize participation” from all demographics of firefighters. Who knows what plan that could be. I get mail every few months to remind me to continue my participation in a Veteran-related study. It usually includes some sort of trinket and a thank you note. The plan should also state a minimum target for participation as being included in the registry will be voluntary. After all, what good is a study if only 5% of the people eligible actually participate? A formula should be created to standardize estimations of how many fires were attended if exact numbers aren’t available. The Secretary is also directed to seek feedback from non-Federal experts (like cancer doctors, public health experts, actual firefighters, etc) on how the information should be used and how the registry can be improved. Finally, the information will be required to be made public in a format that does not include personal identifying information and with no cost to anyone who wishes to view it.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that this will cost about $10 million to create and maintain between fiscal years 2018 – 2022. This bill gives the registry $2.5 million each fiscal year for a total of $12.5 million by the end of 2022. It passed in the House of Representatives by a voice vote on September 12, 2017 and will be sent to the Senate for approval.

Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act (H.R. 1181)

It’s no secret that the mental health of our Veterans is a hot topic; not only how to manage it, but also the consequences of it. As a Veteran and a caregiver to my Veteran husband who was injured in Iraq, I understand first-hand why it is so important that we study and improve on services for our men and women in the military. That being said, the rights of some Veterans are being taken away because the VA has determined they are “mentally incompetent” to manage their own finances. This determination could be for many different reasons but it results in the appointment of someone to oversee their VA compensation (often a loved one or friend) and the denial to own a firearm. You read that properly. A man or woman who has served our country honorably and fought to keep them safe could potentially lose the right to bear arms, a right afforded to them in the 2nd Amendment.

Enter H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act. With a vote of 240-175, the bill was passed in the House today. The bill seeks to correct language about gun ownership that is too broad. The U.S. Code which outlines criminal acts, makes owning a gun a crime for anyone who has been “adjudicated as a mental defective.” Under this new bill, if passed, a judge, magistrate, or someone “of judical authority” must determine that a Veteran is a danger to themself or others.

I am not going to slam the VA here. After five years in Army administration, I know how hard it can be to ensure that you are following regulation to the letter of the law (there is rarely room for “spirit of the law”). However, in an attempt to do so, the VA has reported thousands of names of Veterans to the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System which would prevent them from buying a gun. This may not seem like a bad idea, except a Veteran who can’t manage their bills properly are now kept from claiming a right that they, ironically, had to make use of during their service.  Some reports say that 167,000 Veterans are listed because of their inability to manage finances; still others list it at 257,000. Whatever the number, it is unfair to take away such a right under these circumstances. Forgetting that your cable bill is due every month does not equal being a danger to anyone.

I thoroughly support background checks and preventing those who are dangerous from owning a gun. I will add that where there is a will, there is, unfortunately sometimes, a way. We cannot prevent all gun violence, or violence using any weapon, however, laws are an important defense against it. Nevertheless, we have to give our Veterans a fair chance. Just because you are bruised, doesn’t mean you are broken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Health Care Act: Premium Tax Credits (Proposed Bill)

We start today’s installment of the health care bill translation with discussion about advanced tax credits. I know, that sent chills of excitement down your spine, didn’t it!?! Either way, under the Affordable Care Act, any tax credits for health care that were advanced and overpaid had to be paid back to the government. There is no real surprise there and it seems only fair, right? Well, there was a plan in place on how much the government would get back, a limit on repayment. For the years 2018 and 2019, there will now be no limit. If you are given an advanced tax credit for health care, you will be required to pay back any and all over-payments, regardless of the amount and personal income. This still seems fair but perhaps it would also be a good idea to work on calculating payments and credits more accurately.

For the purposes of this tax credit, the term “Qualified Health Plan” would now include plans that are not offered on State exchanges. It would not include a grandfathered or grandmothered health plan or one that includes coverage for abortions unless it was necessary to save the life of the mother. Women can still opt to buy separate insurance that would cover abortion but they cannot use or claim any tax credits for that plan. Should any side effects, illness, or injury occur because of an abortion, the treatment of those things would be able to be treated by a health plan that is paid for by credits.

Advanced payments of tax credits will not be made for any health insurance plan that is not part of the State exchange. If you wish to claim the credits for non-exchange plans, you will need to include a statement with your tax return showing that it is a qualified health plan, the months you were covered, the adjusted monthly premium for a silver plan at the second lowest cost (wow that is getting specific), and any other information requested in the  future. These requirements for information will not apply to any coverage starting in January 2020.

Seniors are seeing another raise in their health care premiums through this bill starting in the 2019 tax year. Should they be eligible to receive any premium tax credits, the percentage of personal income that they are required to pay towards premiums increases with age once you get income above 150% of the poverty line.

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And really, this doesn’t just affect seniors. The older you are, the more  you will pay. Have a younger spouse? Well that won’t help either! My husband is 12 years older than me. Filing a joint return means that his age is the one they base the required percentage off of. That could mean 2% or more difference and it would be another 30 years before we are both in the same bracket and that won’t matter because the premium tax credits will be gone after the 2019 tax year. Why does age matter for tax credits anyway? Isn’t a dollar still a dollar no matter whose pocket it is in?

Next up… Small Business Tax Credit…

American Health Care Act: Buh-Bye Random Taxes (Proposed Health Care Bills)

Several pages of the American Health Care Act repeal a few taxes and even a deduction. Unfortunately, only a couple of them will directly affect the American consumer. If the bill passes, we can say buh-bye to the so-called “Tanning Tax.” The 10% tax is paid by the person who actually hops inside the tanning bed. The 3.8% Investment Income Tax will go away as well. According to businessinsider.com, just over 40% of Americans are invested in the stock market, but it really depends on how much each person holds in stock as to whether or not they really feel a boost. As with all of the other repeals discussed in this post, these taxes will end December 31, 2017.

The IRS code does not allow health insurance companies to deduct pay paid to an  employee that goes over $500k. There are a few exceptions but now this won’t be a problem. They can pay a CEO a buttload of money and deduct it as a payroll expense. In case you are wondering, buttload is a technical term…

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Now that we can all legitimately use “buttload,” let’s get back to all of the fun money that companies will be saving after 2017!

Prescription drug makers and importers will no longer be paying the special tax imposed upon them. Could this lead to lower prescription drug costs? We can only hope.

And finally, health insurance companies pay another tax that has to do with how much they collect in monthly premiums. The tax was suspended for this year and if this bill makes it through without changing this, the tax will formally end at the end of the year.

These tax cuts could be a positive thing, as long as they translate to lower costs to the consumer. I’ll be honest, I’m not entirely sure why the Investment Income Tax is addressed in health care legislation, but random stuff happens like this all the time.Perhaps you could argue that the tax that would have been paid could be used to pay monthly insurance premiums but I just don’t see Americans who need help the most carrying a stock portfolio that makes that kind of money. But, I’ve been wrong before.

‘Til tomorrow, when I will bring you another buttload of information!

American Health Care Act, Subtitle D: Patient & Health Insurance Market Stability

This subtitle of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) may possibly be the most important part that I have reviewed thus far. I can finally see where the drafters of this legislation can support their call for “Repeal and Replace.” That is exactly what this section does.

Section 1402 of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will be repealed. This section covers the decrease of “cost-sharing” for insured Americans. Things like copays and deductibles are reduced but premiums and out of network services are not.

This is to be replaced with a new title section added to the Social Security Act which governs medical assistance programs and payments. This new section will be:

Title XXII – Patient and State Stability Fund

For the period of January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2026, funds will be given to each state for the following purposes:

  1. Financial assistance for “high-risk” people who don’t have health care coverage through their employer. The term “high-risk” was not defined anywhere in the subtitle and poses a concern because it can mean many things to different people.Do they mean high-risk financially or medically? And what would the criteria be to fall into that category. Implementation gets sketchy when details are left out.
  2. States can provide “incentives” to “appropriate entities” that enter into arrangements with the State to help level off the cost of premiums (the bill you get to pay to the insurance companies… ).
  3. The funds can be used to reduce the cost to insurance companies for people who are  expected to need a lot of medical care. Although it isn’t stated, I can see where this could be a good idea. Premiums go up when insurance companies think they will have to pay more for your care. There should probably be some oversight here to make sure the insurance companies follow through completely on this.
  4. States can use the money to promote participation in the health insurance market and to increase the number of options available in the individual/small group market.
  5. They can promote access to preventive services, dental and vision care, and services mental health or substance use disorders.
  6. Payments can be made directly or indirectly to health care providers
  7. Finally, and perhaps what families will notice the most, these funds from the federal government to the States can be used to reduce out of pocket costs to those who are insured to include copays, premiums, and deductibles.

State Eligibility and Approval; Default Safeguard

States will need to formally tell the federal government how these funds will be used before they can receive them. They will also need to certify that they will use their own State money to supplement the federal money in the percentage required by law (discussed a little later). If a State doesn’t have and approved application for funding for the year, the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will work with the State Insurance Commissioner and spend the money for the State for the purposes stated above.

For insurance claims that exceed $50k, but less than $350k, part of the State funds will be used to pay 75% of those claims to the insurer. This will be done in hopes of stabilizing the price of insurance. $15 billion in total will be given to the States in 2018 and 2019 and 10 billion for every year after  that through 2026.Any funds that are not used each year can be applied to payment of insurance claims that exceed $1 million or they can be rolled over to the next year.

Beginning in 2020, States must also agree to use a portion of their own money for the same seven reasons listed above that the federal money is used for. It starts at 7% in 2020 and increases by 7% each year until it jumps by 8% in 2026 to make an even 50%. So for every $1 million that the federal government gives the States for this section in 2026, the States will have to use $500k of their own money for the same activities. If they do not agree to this, they will only receive a portion of the money they would otherwise get.

The penalty for not having health care doesn’t seem to be going away. Instead of a flat penalty for being uninsured that many Americans enjoy so much… the punishment will be 30% of the monthly premiums you would have paid if you remain uninsured for more than 63 days continuous days. My thoughts on this are best described in this quote from B.F. Skinner:

“A person who has been punished is not thereby simply less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.”

I would confidently say that the majority of people who are uninsured do not remain that way because they want to. It’s a matter of “Do I eat today” or “Do I pay my insurance bill” more than anything. No one likes to be surprised by hospital and doctor bills, just like we don’t like to be surprised by natural disasters and car wrecks. The difference is the cost. Car and home insurance can be had fairly cheaply as long as you are take precaution and follow the applicable laws. If this – or any – health care bill works to control the spiraling costs of health care, then – and only then – will you see people happy to have a law requiring them to buy health insurance.

Section 134 Increasing Coverage Options

This section takes away the mandate for basic “Health Benefit Packages” in order for health insurance to be part of an approved plan by the government. If you have read my previous posts, this may sound familiar to you… and it should. This section takes away the mandate within the Affordable Care Act. There was a similar removal from the Social Security Act under Subtitle B of this bill.

Finally, and probably a really terrible note to end on, age related premiums have gone from a ration of 3:1 to 5:1. Basically, if you are 22 year old woman and are charged $200 for a health insurance plan, it would be legal for an insurance company to charge a 64 year old woman $1000 for the exact same plan.

What a crappy note to end on. There better be some serious help for that 64 year old woman…

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