“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

(Title quote is from Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee)

Photo

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, last week in Washington. CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Sunday laced into Senator Bob Corker, a Republican whose support the president will need on tax reform and the future of the Iran nuclear deal, saying on Twitter that the senator had decided not to run for re-election next year because he “didn’t have the guts.”

“Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement).”

Mr. Trump also said that Mr. Corker had asked to be secretary of state. “I said ‘NO THANKS,’” Mr. Trump wrote.

Mr. Corker offered a barbed response. “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center,” he wrote on Twitter. “Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

Continue reading the main story

The Tennessee senator has been a favorite target of Mr. Trump’s for months, after the senator, who was once a campaign supporter, became increasingly critical of Mr. Trump’s performance in the White House.

After a report last week that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had once referred to Mr. Trump as a “moron,” Mr. Corker told reporters at the Capitol that Mr. Tillerson was one of three officials helping to “separate our country from chaos.”

In August, Mr. Corker had told reporters in Tennessee that the president “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Mr. Trump’s feud with Mr. Corker is particularly perilous given that the president has little margin for error as he tries to pass an overhaul of the tax code — his best hope of producing a major legislative achievement in the coming months.

If Senate Democrats end up unified in opposition to the promised tax bill, Mr. Trump would be able to lose the support of only two of the Senate’s 52 Republicans in order to pass it. That is the same challenging math that Mr. Trump and Senate Republican leaders faced in their failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Corker, who is outspoken about the nation’s mounting debt, has already signaled deep reservations about the Republican effort to pass a tax overhaul, saying he would not vote for a tax bill that adds to the deficit.

In addition, Mr. Corker, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could play a key role if Mr. Trump follows through on his threat to “decertify” the Iran nuclear deal, kicking to Congress the issue of whether to restore sanctions on Tehran and effectively scuttle the pact.

Democrats just keep winning Republican seats they shouldn’t be winning

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Democrats just keep winning Republican seats they shouldn’t be winning

(CNN)Roy Moore’s victory in Alabama dominated the news on Wednesday. But, it was two far less high-profile races on Tuesday night — one in Florida, one in New Hampshire — that may well give us the best indication of where we are headed in the 2018 midterm elections.

In Florida, Democrat Annette Tadeo won a Republican-held state Senate district 51% to 47%. In New Hampshire, Democrat Kari Lerner beat a former Republican state representative to fill a state House district that Donald Trump won by 23 points last November.
Those twin wins make it eight Republican-controlled state legislative seats that Democrats have flipped in 2017 alone. (Republicans flipped a Democratic state House seat in Louisiana earlier this year although Democrats didn’t even field a candidate in that race.)
That means that of the 27 Republican-held state legislative seats that have come open in 2017 to date, Democrats have now flipped almost 30% of them — a remarkable number in anycircumstance but especially so when you consider the average Trump margin in these seats in 2016 was 19 points.
Yes, each of these races have unique dynamics. In the Florida race, for example, the seat was open because the Republican incumbent was forced to resign after making racists comment to several black lawmakers at a bar in Tallahassee. It’s not exactly easy to run as a Republican in the district in the wake of that sort of scandal.
Despite the differing circumstances in each of these races, however, Republicans ignore this trend at their own political peril. While Democrats at the federal level haven’t been able to pull off the wins they have scored downballot, in virtually every House special election this year Democrats overperformed — by a large amount — Hillary Clinton’s 2016 showing in these congressional seats.
There’s also the fact that approval for the Republican party hit its lowest point ever recorded in a CNN poll this month. And that Democrats held a 9-point lead over Republicans on the generic ballot question in that same poll.
Then there’s the daunting history facing the GOP. According to Gallup, the average seat loss for the president’s party in midterm elections with a president under 50% approval (as Trump is now) is 36 — a number that, if past predicted present, would cost Republicans their House majority.
The signs, in other words, are all there for an electoral reckoning for Republicans in 2018.
So, why aren’t we hearing more about it? Because state legislative races aren’t sexy. Because Democrats haven’t been able to win one of the more high profile GOP-held House seats in a series of special elections so far this year. Because there’s still more than a year left before the midterms. Because the congressional lines have been drawn to make it very difficult for Democrats to make large-scale gains.
All true!
But, don’t mistake what we are seeing: Considerable over performance by Democrats often in heavily Republican areas. That’s true at the state legislative and federal levels. And, if it continues to anything close to the extent we’ve seen in the first nine months of 2017, Republicans could be headed for major problems at the ballot box next November.

GOP tax plan would provide major gains for richest 1 percent

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

GOP tax plan would provide major gains for richest 1 percent and uneven benefits for the middle class, report says

 September 29 at 2:03 PM
The analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a leading group of nonpartisan tax analysts, challenges President Trump’s promise about the effects of the plan.The top 1 percent would see their taxes drop by more than $200,000 on average, the analysis found.

But nearly 30 percent of taxpayers with incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 would see a tax increase within a decade — despite Republican promises that the plan is designed to provide relief to middle-class Americans, according to the study.

The majority of those making between $150,000 and $300,000 would also be hit with higher taxes.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.

Democratic And Republican Parties Are Both Anti-Christ Parties

A Visit To This Time Last Year

 

September 4, 2016
Democratic And Republican Parties Are Both Anti-Christ Parties

When I was a young child back in the 1950’s-60’s I was raised in a family that believed in the Democratic Party. My parents were folks who believed in the reality that working people if they wanted to be able to financially survive needed Union protections. They also believed that the Republican Party was solely for the wealthiest people and was clearly anti working people. They also believed that the Democratic Party, because they cared about the poor was the party that the Churches backed. I never remember going to a Church that had a Republican Minister simply because the Republicans agenda’s were in direct contrast to the love, kindness and sharing teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court with their ruling on ‘Roe v Wade’ abortion ruling seemed to change the political map within the Churches. The teachings regarding abortion within the Scriptures are definitely anti-abortion yet almost all of the Churches and their Ministers remained as Democrats because they could not transcend over to a Party (Republicans) who were against basically all of the teachings of Jesus about how we should all treat each other. Yet, my question is how can a Church, a Minister, or their congregation openly or even behind closed doors back abortion? How can you say that you or a Minister (that word means, Servant) are a Christian (follower of Christ) and at the same time back abortion?

What I do not understand is why the people who say they are Christians have not created a third National Party! The Democratic Party strongly backs a woman’s “right” to have an abortion at any time during a pregnancy. The Republican Party wants to end all abortions seeing them as the murdering of over a million children here in the U.S. each year. So, Republicans have garnered the “conservative Christians” into their camp because of the abortion issue. This is even though the Republican Party Platform is still strongly anti-working people, and anti the people having the right to work under Union protections.

I am a registered voting Independent because I see both Parties as crooked and pure evil. When the people go to the polls this November we just like every other election know that either a Republican or a Democrat is going to win at every level of Government. To vote for anyone else is nothing more than a protest vote that has no effect on who actually wins the elections, it will be a Democrat or a Republican. So, just like this November we Voters are having to consider which one of the two Evils win. Especially concerning the Presidency this year, which Evil is less Evil, that is what we have to look forward to. For either of these political parties to claim to be close or closer to God is total BS. Evil is still Evil, neither of these Political Parties have the endorsement of the Scriptures of God, so how can anyone who calls themselves a Christian or Jewish endorse or support either of these Demonic structures? I used the title of them being anti-Christ, I am not saying that either Parties leadership is ‘the anti-Christ’. What I am saying is that both Parties policies are in direct indifference to the teachings of God’s Holy Scriptures, thus both Parties are Anti-Christ!

Republicans Control All Three Houses No Democrats To Blame: Americans Don’t Want What They’re Selling

 

This afternoon some of the biggest news coming out of Washington D.C. is that the Republicans in the Senate have decided not to call a vote on their version of a Health Care Bill. The reason is that no Democratic Senator will vote for what they are trying to push through onto the American people, and several of the Republican Senators refuse to vote for it either. If there is such a thing as a moderate Republican Senator it has been no surprise to me that they can not muster up a Health Care Bill that the so-called ‘conservative base, meaning the ultra right Tea Party folks’ will vote for. These folks like Senator Ted Cruz are the kind of folks that insist that everything be 100% their way, or it is no way. Remember during the recent Presidential debates he looked straight into the camera and fanatically stated that “if I become President I will not negotiate with the Democrats?” We the people have been telling Washington for several decades now that we are sick and tired of the total gridlock in Washington. The reason for the gridlock folks is because neither Party is willing to negotiate policies with the other. The other side of this “Republican coin” is that when these politicians took their huge summer break and held ‘town hall’ meetings with the voters they got told in no uncertain terms to leave the ACA alone, or make it ‘more’ inclusive, not less. These Republican Congressmen/Women and Senators got the message from the voters that if they vote for what the Republicans are calling a Health Care Bill, they will be voted out of Office at the next election they run in. In other words, we the people are going to fire them. So, now you have a group of so-called ‘Liberal’ Republican Senators who see the light and for the sake of their own jobs are saying no to the Republican Leadership on their Bill they are trying to push down the throats of the American people.

 

For seven years the Republicans have gripped about the ACA (Obama Care) and talked and talked about how when they got control of the power in Washington that the first thing they were going to do on day one was to get rid of it, replace it. For seven years they flapped their lips yet it became obvious that during that seven years not a single one of them actually came up with any plan to replace it with. This, to me falls straight in the laps of the Republican Leadership in both the House and the Senate. The Leader of the Senate is Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, the other Senator is Republican (he is actually Libertarian) Rand Paul. Rand Paul is one of the Republican Senators that refuses to vote for the Republican Bill unless it is much more restrictive which is something that he is in lockstep with Ted Cruz on. For seven years the Republicans blamed the Democrats for pretty much everything they seen in the world as being wrong. When it actually surprised them last November to gain full control of all three branches of the Federal Government they no longer were able to hide their hate filled agenda’s from the American people. Here in the U.S. there is only one main issue that turned the Christian voters into the Republican camp and that is when the Democratic Party adopted abortion as a founding block of their Party Agenda. The Christian folks that I know mostly either don’t vote or they vote Republican and the abortion issue is exactly why. Many who vote for the Republicans aren’t fans of the Republican Party, they are voting as anti-Abortion. If you really look at the Republican agenda, except for the abortion issue, there is very little that conforms with the teachings of Jesus Christ in the New Testament or in the teachings of the Old Testament. In reality the teachings of the Bible go directly against the teachings and policies of the Republican Part’s actions. There are other issues that people of faith have against the Democratic Platform also, it is just that the Abortion issue is by far the single biggest issue. I wrote an article a few months ago that I am going to try to locate where the title was something along the line of “The Republican And The Democratic Parties Are Both Anti-Christ Parties.” If I can find that article I will re-post it this evening for you to consider.

Senate Won’t Bring GOP Health Care Bill To The Floor For A Vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Washington (CNN)The Senate will not vote on the Graham-Cassidy bill to repeal Obamacare, Republican leaders announced Tuesday.

The decision is another blow to President Donald Trump’s attempts to repeal Obamacare, a long-time Republican campaign promise and a centerpiece of his legislative agenda. Trump is now also floating the idea of working with Democrats on changes to the health care law, repeating his budget deal he reached earlier this month.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with lawmakers Tuesday to take stock of where his members are on the proposal and make the call once and for all if Graham-Cassidy, the latest bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, will get a vote in the Senate. The decision was that the votes simply weren’t there.
On Monday, Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine, finally came out against the bill, a position she’d been teetering toward for days. Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky also opposed to the measure.
The calculations for health care are agonizing for McConnell. Putting a controversial bill on the floor without the votes exposes members to political fallout and attack ads. Many Republicans hadn’t even taken a public position on Graham-Cassidy, a bill that the Congressional Budget Office said Monday would drastically cut Medicaid and lead to millions of people not having health insurance compared to the status quo.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a bill sponsor, publicly thanked McConnell. “Thank you, it’s complicated, it’s difficult politics,” Graham told reporters.
McConnell “didn’t try to explain the decision” during the lunch, Sen. Tim Scott said. “It’s obvious — we don’t have the votes right now, you don’t vote until you have them.”

Can it stay alive via tax bill?

While the repeal effort has risen from the dead before — several times — most in the chamber were resigned that this time would be was unlikely to get a hold of phoenix-like properties before the September 30 deadline to move the bill with 50 votes to beat a Democratic filibuster.
Regardless of what happens to Graham-Cassidy, there are signs that plenty of Republicans in Washington — both in the White House and Capitol Hill — are simply not ready to give up.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he was “disappointed” in several senators, in an apparent reference to McCain, Paul and Collins.
“At some point there will be a repeal and replace but we’ll see whether or not that point is now or whether it will be shortly thereafter,” Trump said. “But we are disappointed in certain so-called Republicans.”
On Capitol Hill, there are rumblings among lawmakers about ways to keep trying on repeal if this week ends with defeat (the current legislative vehicle that Republicans are using to move a health care bill without any Democratic support expires after Saturday).
One idea — which hardly enjoys widespread support at the moment — is to tie both health care and tax reform to the 2018 budget.
Graham and Sen. Ron Johnson, who both sit on the budget committee, have advocated for this idea. It has raised concerns among Republican lawmakers and staff alike who know just how messy that could potentially be.
One GOP aide bluntly described that scenario as “a nightmare.”

Working with Democrats?

At a White House meeting with both Democratic and GOP lawmakers, the President warned Republicans in bipartisan meeting he’d work with Democrats on health care if they fail to act.
Trump mentioned how much he liked the deal he negotiated recently with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Pelosi, according to a source familiar with the discussion and with Democratic lawmakers.
Democratic Rep. Linda Sanchez told reporters that Trump told the group he was “disappointed” in those Republican senators who came out against the Senate bill. She said he “chided” the GOP members there that he could end up working with Democrats on health care legislation
Rep. Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts, ranking member on the Ways and Means Committee said “Clearly,” he said when asked if the President made the threat.
“He made that clear that if he didn’t get what he wanted, he was going to work with Democrats on a plan,” Neal told reporters.
This story has been updated.

 

Democratic And Republican Parties Are Both Anti-Christ Parties

A Visit To This Time Last Year

 

September 4, 2016
Democratic And Republican Parties Are Both Anti-Christ Parties

When I was a young child back in the 1950’s-60’s I was raised in a family that believed in the Democratic Party. My parents were folks who believed in the reality that working people if they wanted to be able to financially survive needed Union protections. They also believed that the Republican Party was solely for the wealthiest people and was clearly anti working people. They also believed that the Democratic Party, because they cared about the poor was the party that the Churches backed. I never remember going to a Church that had a Republican Minister simply because the Republicans agenda’s were in direct contrast to the love, kindness and sharing teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court with their ruling on ‘Roe v Wade’ abortion ruling seemed to change the political map within the Churches. The teachings regarding abortion within the Scriptures are definitely anti-abortion yet almost all of the Churches and their Ministers remained as Democrats because they could not transcend over to a Party (Republicans) who were against basically all of the teachings of Jesus about how we should all treat each other. Yet, my question is how can a Church, a Minister, or their congregation openly or even behind closed doors back abortion? How can you say that you or a Minister (that word means, Servant) are a Christian (follower of Christ) and at the same time back abortion?

What I do not understand is why the people who say they are Christians have not created a third National Party! The Democratic Party strongly backs a woman’s “right” to have an abortion at any time during a pregnancy. The Republican Party wants to end all abortions seeing them as the murdering of over a million children here in the U.S. each year. So, Republicans have garnered the “conservative Christians” into their camp because of the abortion issue. This is even though the Republican Party Platform is still strongly anti-working people, and anti the people having the right to work under Union protections.

I am a registered voting Independent because I see both Parties as crooked and pure evil. When the people go to the polls this November we just like every other election know that either a Republican or a Democrat is going to win at every level of Government. To vote for anyone else is nothing more than a protest vote that has no effect on who actually wins the elections, it will be a Democrat or a Republican. So, just like this November we Voters are having to consider which one of the two Evils win. Especially concerning the Presidency this year, which Evil is less Evil, that is what we have to look forward to. For either of these political parties to claim to be close or closer to God is total BS. Evil is still Evil, neither of these Political Parties have the endorsement of the Scriptures of God, so how can anyone who calls themselves a Christian or Jewish endorse or support either of these Demonic structures? I used the title of them being anti-Christ, I am not saying that either Parties leadership is ‘the anti-Christ’. What I am saying is that both Parties policies are in direct indifference to the teachings of God’s Holy Scriptures, thus both Parties are Anti-Christ!

‘Trump betrays everyone’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

‘Trump betrays everyone’: The president has a long record as an unpredictable ally

 Play Video 2:39
Trump confounds conservatives by siding with Democrats
 September 9 at 8:00 AM
President Trump prepared for the pivotal meeting with congressional leaders by huddling with his senior team — his chief of staff, his legislative director and the heads of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget — to game out various scenarios on how to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and provide Hurricane Harvey relief.But one option they never considered was the that one the president ultimately chose: cutting a deal with Democratic lawmakers, to the shock and ire of his own party.

In agreeing to tie Harvey aid to a three-month extension of the debt ceiling and government funding, Trump burned the people who are ostensibly his allies. The president was an unpredictable — and, some would say, untrustworthy — negotiating partner with not only congressional Republicans but also with his Cabinet members and top aides. Trump saw a deal that he thought was good for him — and he seized it.

The move should come as no surprise to students of Trump’s long history of broken alliances and agreements. In business, his personal life, his campaign and now his presidency, Trump has sprung surprises on his allies with gusto. His dealings are frequently defined by freewheeling spontaneity, impulsive decisions and a desire to keep everyone guessing — especially those who assume they can control him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), flanked by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), left, and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) speaks Wednesday at the Capitol after President Trump overruled Republicans and his treasury secretary to cut a deal with Democrats. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

He also repeatedly demonstrates that, while he demands absolute loyalty from others, he is ultimately loyal to no one but himself.

“It makes all of their normalizing and ‘Trumpsplaining’ look silly and hollow,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist sharply critical of Trump, referring to his party’s congressional leaders. “Trump betrays everyone: wives, business associates, contractors, bankers and now, the leaders of the House and Senate in his own party. They can’t explain this away as [a] 15-dimensional Trump chess game. It’s a dishonest person behaving according to his long-established pattern.”

But what many Republicans saw as betrayal was, in the view of some Trump advisers, an exciting return to his campaign promise of being a populist dealmaker able to cut through the mores of Washington to get things done.

In that Wednesday morning Oval Office meeting, Trump was impressed with the energy and vigor of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) relative to the more subdued Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Far from fretting over the prospect of alienating McConnell and Ryan or members of his administration, he relished the opportunity for a bipartisan agreement and the praise he anticipated it would bring, according to people close to the president.

On Thursday morning, he called Pelosi and Schumer to crow about coverage of the deal — “The press has been incredible,” he told Pelosi, according to someone familiar with the call — and point out that it had been especially positive for the Democratic leaders.

At the White House later that day, Trump asked Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) how he thought the deal was playing. “I told him I thought it was great, and a gateway project to show there could be bipartisan progress,” King said. “He doesn’t want to be in an ideological straitjacket.”

In some ways, White House officials said, Trump is as comfortable working with Democrats to achieve policy goals — complete with the sheen of bipartisan luster — as he is with Republicans. Though he did not partner with Democrats to spite McConnell and Ryan, aides said, he has long felt frustrated with them for what he perceives as their inability to help shepherd his agenda through Congress, most notably their stalled efforts to undo former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.

On Thursday, Trump took to Twitter to express dissatisfaction with his adopted political party, complaining about Obamacare: “Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!” He also bemoaned the legislative filibuster, which requires Republicans to work with Democrats to meet a 60-senator threshold for most votes, writing, “It is a Repub Death wish.”

Ari Fleischer, press secretary under President George W. Bush, said that Trump deserves credit for staving off, at least in the short term, a possible default and government shutdown.

“It’s going to internally hurt him that he didn’t work with Republicans on this one, but by avoiding a mess, he likely saved Republicans from themselves,” Fleischer said. “I consider it a small victory that congressional Republicans didn’t once again trip themselves up over this issue. At least for now.”

King, a moderate who represents a Long Island district that Trump carried, said: “I think this could be a new day for the Republican Party.”

Trump’s agreement with the Democrats is hardly the first time the president has flouted his allies, including those around the world, sending them skittering nervously in response to a threat or a sudden turnabout.

In April, Trump thrust Canada and Mexico — as well as many of his advisers and Cabinet officials — into a state of panic during a frenetic, if brief, period when he threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. In May, speaking in front of NATO’s sparkling new headquarters, Trump alarmed European allies when he chastised them for “not paying what they should be paying” and refused to embrace the treaty’s cornerstone — that an attack on one represents an attack on all. And in September, as the crisis with North Korea escalated, Trump abruptly threatened to withdraw from a free-trade agreement with South Korea.

Foreign diplomats euphemistically describe the president as “unpredictable,” and even those with good relationships with the United States say they are “cautiously optimistic” that Trump’s behavior will continue to benefit their nations.

On the issue of the debt-ceiling extension and short-term government funding, a GOP aide familiar with Wednesday’s meeting said many Republicans viewed Trump’s decision as “a spur-of-the-moment thing” that happened because the president “just wanted a deal.”

“He saw a deal and wanted the deal, and it just happened to be completely against what we were pushing for,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Our conclusion is there isn’t much to read into other than he made that decision on the spot, and that’s what he does because he’s Trump, and he made an impulsive decision because he saw a deal he wanted.”

From the outset, the meeting did not go as Republican leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had hoped. They began by pushing for an 18-month extension of the debt ceiling, with Mnuchin lecturing the group of longtime legislators about the importance of raising the debt ceiling, according to three people familiar with the gathering who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It was just odd and weird,” one said. “He was very much a duck out of water.”

The treasury secretary presented himself as a Wall Street insider, arguing that the stability of the markets required an 18-month extension.

At one point, Schumer intervened with a skeptical question: “So the markets dictate one month past the 2018 election?” he asked, rhetorically, according to someone with knowledge of his comment. “I doubt that.”

At another, Pelosi explained that understanding Wall Street is not the same as operating in Congress. “Here the currency of the realm is the vote,” she told reporters in a news conference Thursday, echoing the comments she had made privately the day before. “You have the votes, no discussion necessary. You don’t have the votes, three months.”

The Republican leaders and Mnuchin slowly began moderating their demands, moving from their initial pitch down to 12 months and then six months. At one point, when Mnuchin was in the middle of yet another explanation, the president cut him off, making it clear that he disagreed.

The deal would be for three months tied to Harvey funding, Trump said — just as the Democrats had wanted.

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On Friday morning, at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, numerous lawmakers vented their frustrations to Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. One of them, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), stood up to say he thought Trump’s snub of Ryan — who had publicly rejected Democrats’ offer hours before Trump accepted it — was also a snub of Republicans at large.

“I support the president, I want him to be successful, I want our country to be successful,” Zeldin said in an interview afterward. “But I personally believe the president had more leverage than he may have realized. He had more Democratic votes than he realized, and could have and would have certainly gotten a better deal.”

Democrats remain skeptical about just how long their newfound working relationship with Trump will last. But for Republicans, the turnabout was yet another reminder of what many of them have long known but refused to openly admit: Trump is a fickle ally and partner, liable to turn on them much in the same way he has turned on his business associates and foreign allies.

“Looking to the long term, trust and reliability have been essential ingredients in productive relationships between the president and Congress,” said Phil Schiliro, who served as director of legislative affairs under Obama. “Without them, trying to move a legislative agenda is like juggling on quicksand. It usually doesn’t end well.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

Washington States ‘Dollar War’ Over Wolf And Cougar Research

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SEATTLE TIMES NEWS PAPER)

 

A WAR OVER WOLVES

Outspoken researcher says his university and lawmakers silenced and punished him.

Robert Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, lets out a howl last spring, hoping for an answer from deep in the territory of the Profanity Peak pack. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

By a slow slide of river deep in Washington’s wolf country, Robert Wielgus laughs at the tattoo on his arm of Four Claws, the grizzly that almost killed him.

“I would rather face charging grizzly bears trying to kill me than politicians and university administrators, because it is over quickly,” said Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University.

A Harley-riding, self-described adrenaline junkie at home in black motorcycle leathers with a Stetson and a .357 in the pickup, Wielgus, 60, is no tweed-jacket academic. For decades he has traveled North America wrangling bears, cougars and wolves to collar and study their behavior, including collaborations with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

Wielgus now finds himself crosswise with ranchers, lawmakers and WSU administrators — and their lobbyists. He’s lost grant funding for his summer research, has been forbidden from talking to media in his professional role and has been reviewed — and cleared — for scientific misconduct.

To understand why involves a look at state policy concerning a menagerie of animals: cougars, sheep, cattle and wolves. And one more animal: homo sapiens.

A motion-triggered wildlife camera captures an image of members of the Profanity Peak pack July 30, 2016. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife killed six adults and a pup in the pack last summer. (Courtesy of WSU Wolf/Livestock Conflict Research program)

In Washington, it turns out, wolves and livestock are getting along better than the people who manage and study them.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a national nonprofit specializing in government scientist whistleblower protection, in April filed a 12-page complaint against WSU officials, alleging the university punished and silenced Wielgus to placate ranchers and state legislators who objected to his research. WSU officials declined to comment for this story, citing possible litigation.

The conflict started back in 2002, when Wielgus began publishing a series of influential papers that called into question the practice of hunting cougars to reduce livestock losses. His research led to a reversal by Gov. Jay Inslee in October 2015 of Fish and Wildlife Commission policy that would have allowed more hunting.

That was not long after Wielgus published a peer-reviewed paper that just as provocatively questioned killing wolves to protect livestock — a policy used by the WDFW by now to take aim at four wolf packs, including two members of the Smackout Pack killed so far this month.

His wolf study made national news with its finding that culling the predators can lead to more livestock kills, not fewer, because it destabilizes pack dynamics.

Normally for a university, national press for one of its researchers would be a point of pride. But the buzz over the paper alarmed lobbyists for WSU, hearing threats from state lawmakers that it was putting money for a new medical school and other pet projects in jeopardy.

Those legislators in turn were responding to ranchers and local officials seeking more lethal action from the department against wolves that harm livestock.

“ … Highly ranked senators have said that the medical school and wolves are linked. If wolves continue to go poorly, there won’t be a new medical school,” Dan Coyne, lobbyist for WSU, wrote his colleague, Jim Jesernig, another WSU lobbyist, two days after the paper’s publication, state records show.

Jesernig, a well-connected former director of the state Department of Agriculture, and former member of the state House and Senate, agreed with Coyne, his partner at the Coyne, Jesernig lobbying firm. “That’s my assessment as well,” Jesernig wrote in an email copied to WSU Director of State Relations Chris Mulick. “ … We are making the med school not doable.”

Replied Mulick, “We’re looking a wee bit like Sonny on the causeway here,” referring to a mob hit on a character in the movie “The Godfather.” “We’re getting in our own way on the med school enough as it is.”

A magazine story prepared by a writer for the university’s magazine and news service in advance of the wolf paper was spiked, Wielgus said. Just like a news release subsequently written, but never issued, on new cougar research out of Wielgus’ lab.

“WTF? What happened?” wrote Jon Keehner, co-author on that paper, to Wielgus.

Wielgus answered that the university was afraid of angering Republicans in the Legislature. He explained grant funds for his wolf work were now being funneled to his lab through another researcher, to take his name off the grant.

“That’s how bad it got,” John Pierce, chief scientist for WDFW’s wildlife program, said in an interview. Losing so-called principal-investigator status on a grant is a wound in academia, Pierce explained, where the ability to bring in grant money is a coin of the realm. Winning grants attracts top graduate students and helps researchers compete for more grants.

In particular, Wielgus had provoked Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, a former Mercer Island resident turned cougar hunter, elected to the Legislature to represent the 7th District in Northeastern Washington.

Rancher Joel Kretz, photographed at his ranch in 2001, displays a dead cougar head on a table while talking to a reporter. Kretz, also shown with his rifle, said cougars were hurting his livestock and that ranchers needed more liberal hunting laws to fight back. He was elected to the Legislature in 2004.(Kevin German / The Seattle Times)

Known for carrying the severed heads of cougars to public meetings — even plucking one for effect from his home freezer to sit, defrosting, on a table between himself and this reporter during an interview at his ranch — Kretz had butted heads with Wielgus from his first cougar papers that had thwarted Kretz’s efforts to increase cougar hunting in Northeastern Washington.

He attacked Wielgus’ wolf research, questioning its scientific validity to WSU officials, and opposed further funding for Wielgus.

Hans Dunshee, a former Snohomish Democrat and top budget writer, confirmed he cut a deal with Kretz in 2015 to sidestep Wielgus from the wolf research grant. “It was our way of sanitizing it while still keeping the money flowing,” said Dunshee, who retired from the Legislature last year. “I thought he was going to be OK.”

But he wasn’t.

2016 spending on wolves

Wolf management is expensive in Washington, costing $973,275 in 2016 alone. That includes $134,999 spent to kill seven wolves, including a pup in the Profanity Peak pack after the wolves killed or injured 15 cattle grazing in the Colville National Forest.

Source: Department of Fish and Wildlife
Emily M. Eng / The Seattle Times

Knocked off the grant, Wielgus lost his summer salary for two years — during the peak season for wolf research — and his travel budget.

In the end, money got tucked in for the medical school, in the same budget that sidestepped the funding for Wielgus. The school will begin its first classes this fall.

Jesernig, in an interview, recalled well the trouble wolves caused as he worked the medical-school issue for WSU.

“It’s not a great secret; it happens to any lobbyist, you have a bill you work and all of a sudden you are in trouble with leadership, same thing here,” Jerserig said. “At the end of the day the good thing about the legislative process is mostly the merits of the issue will win out on the thing you are working on, and that is what happened on the medical school.”

Outrage erupts

Already targeted for his wolf research, Wielgus poured gas on the fire last summer.

As the Profanity Peak pack started killing cows and the state launched a trapper and marksmen on the ground and in helicopters to protect the rancher’s cattle, Wielgus told The Seattle Times and other media outlets that Len McIrvin, a partner in the Diamond M, “chose to put his cattle on top of the den site.”

The implication that the rancher — whose livestock losses in 2012 also led to the state killing the Wedge pack — purposely put his animals in harm’s way to provoke the state’s ensuing kill of the Profanity Peak pack ignited a firestorm.

Thousands of angry emails and phone calls from wolf advocates poured into the offices of the WDFW and the Colville National Forest, home to many ranchers’ grazing allotments. Donny Martorello, the department’s wolf-policy lead, hid his wife in a motel. McIrvin’s family unplugged the phone at the ranch to escape death threats.

Kretz, incensed, demanded an apology from WSU just as public as the remarks Wielgus had made — and got it. The university quickly issued a news release disavowing Wielgus’s statements and asserting that Wielgus had admitted he had no basis in fact for making them.

In a letter of concern written into his personnel file, Wielgus was instructed by Ron Mittelhammer, the dean of the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences to have no further contact with the media without first clearing his statements with WSU. Wielgus duly went silent as the furor raged.

“He ought to be drawn and quartered and a chunk of him left everywhere in the district,” Kretz said in an interview then with The Seattle Times, saying Wielgus had a vendetta against McIrvin.

“I think he is agenda-driven; it’s incredible damage,” Kretz said. “This is not science, it is advocacy. I would say it’s beyond advocacy, it’s baldfaced lying to the public. I don’t want to see a nickel go through his hands.”

Wielgus says today that he could have been more diplomatic; his public remarks at the time included saying “go ahead and quote me: ‘Wherever McIrvin grazes … dead wolves follow.’ Quote me. He’ll be proud of it!”

Natural migration

Source: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Emily M. Eng / The Seattle Times

Wolves are returning to the state on their own from Idaho and Canada, and have surged into Northeastern Washington, where most of the state’s 20 packs live. Diamond M operators had been warning the department about the Profanity pack since 2014, after three confirmed kills of its cattle by the pack. But what Diamond M ranchers and the department didn’t know as the ranchers loaded up their cattle for turnout in 2016 was the pack had moved much closer to the Diamond M’s operations on public grazing lands in the Colville National Forest.

Burned out by the Stickpin fire in 2015, the wolves had moved their den from the previous year to within 5 miles of the Diamond M’s usual turnout site for the C.C. Mountain grazing allotment, and a quarter-mile from the salt lick put out in the same spot every year to draw cows up from lowland pastures to the mountain.Where cattle and the Profanity Peak pack clashed

In 2016 ranchers turned out 8,868 cows and calves on 583,315 acres of the Colville National Forest. The forest is home to many of Washington’s wolf packs, yet overall, there was little conflict between cattle and wolves — except with one pack: the Profanity Peak pack. Those wolves killed five calves and a cow before the pack was killed off by the state to protect ranchers’ cattle.

One ranch in particular, the Diamond M — with nearly 400 cows and calves using their usual allotment and salt lick — suffered the most losses. Scroll down to see how it happened.

Running slow? Enable low detail mode:

 Low detail

State biologists collared wolves in the Profanity Peak pack on June 9 and 12, 2016. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife knew 11 grazing allotments overlapped the pack’s territory — not unusual or problematic in Washington, where wolves typically share the landscape with livestock without incident.

The McIrvin family and Diamond M Ranch have held their grazing permits in the Colville National Forest for 73 years. But what the ranchers and department did not know was the Profanity Peak pack, burned out of its territory in the 2015 Stickpin Fire, had moved its den in 2016 into the heart of one of the Diamond M allotments.

Shown in orange: Activity of the Profanity Peak wolf pack taken from GPS collars in June 2016

By the end of June, the department, using collar data, knew where the den site was: about 5 miles from where the Diamond M had turned out its cattle June 9, and only a quarter-mile from the salt lick placed to draw them to higher ground on C.C. Mountain.

The ranchers figured out the den site on their own at the same time as the department, because of all the wolf howling, tracks and scat they noticed while checking on their cattle. They also were informed of the den location by the department.

  •  Cattle turnout point
  •  Diamond M salt lick
  •  Profanity Peak pack den site

Wolves range over an average territory of 349 square miles, and the Diamond M cows were soon in the heart of the Profanity Peak pack’s core activity area.

Before long, the wolves were killing calves anywhere from 1 mile to more than 10 miles from the initial turnout location and den site.

  •  Confirmed kill
  •  Probable kill
  •  Confirmed injury

The department didn’t urge Diamond M operators to get more people out watching over their cattle until after the first calf was killed July 8. While the department initially assured the public that the Diamond M was following its recommended protocol of turning out calves at least 200 pounds or larger, it later revealed that some animals were smaller, so more vulnerable.

A range rider for the Diamond M moved the salt block Aug. 8 after being asked to by the department. But that just made the problem of cows hanging around the wolves’ core activity area worse. Cows milled around, looking for the salt that was supposed to be there and licking and pawing salt still in the ground.

  •  Diamond M salt lick
  •  Profanity Peak pack den site

The WDFW carried on most of the summer and into the fall killing wolves, eventually taking the lives of six adults and a pup in the pack. The department confirmed the pack killed five Diamond M calves and one cow from another ranch.

For all the controversy, Wielgus said he is still optimistic wolves will recover from local extinction in Washington. He doesn’t think the same for himself.

The news release disavowing his statements was never shown to him, Wielgus said, and misconstrued a short conversation by phone between him and Mittelhammer.

While he has since attained tenure, Wielgus said he no longer wants to work at the university. “They called me a liar and ruined my career.”

Robert Wielgus gets ready to listen for the radio collar on the sole surviving adult of the Profanity Peak pack, mostly killed off by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife last summer for killing ranchers’ cattle. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Confusing message

Wielgus’ conflicts with the university would continue, after he emailed a news release reporting the latest findings from his lab to the state’s Wolf Advisory Group (WAG) and others as the group debated wolf policy for 2017.

Wolf kills of livestock were exceedingly rare, Wielgus reported, occurring in fewer than 1 percent of the livestock tracked by his lab. Only in the case of the Profanity Peak pack, where cattle and a salt block to attract them were milling around the wolves’ activity area, had there been multiple calf kills, more than anywhere else surveyed, Wielgus reported.

Wielgus had sent the release to WSU communications staff and administrators and received preapproval by Mittelhammer before putting it out as his personal opinion and not on behalf of the university, as they requested. But that strategy, intended to create distance between Wielgus and WSU, just created confusion.

In an email to Mulick, the WSU state relations director, Tom Davis, of the Washington Farm Bureau and a WAG member, objected that Wielgus was sending out a press release about his publicly funded research findings but labeling them his personal opinion. He also said he wouldn’t attend the meeting if Wielgus was allowed to speak.

Mittelhammer went into response mode, personally meeting with Kretz and other lawmakers, then attending the advisory group meeting with several WSU officials. He followed up with a letter to lawmakers on April 12 reassuring them “while an irritant, the deliberations of the WAG were fortunately not significantly affected by Dr. Wielgus’ attempt to influence the group’s deliberations through the dissemination of his so-called “press release” document.

“That said, on a more individual and personal basis, it did also appear that Dr. Wielgus’ actions did negatively impact a number of individuals in the room who felt that the document reinvigorated negative feelings toward ranchers by wolf protectionists.”

He assured the lawmakers he had sent Wielgus a second “memo of concern,” and promised to follow up with investigations of whether Wielgus had broken state law by illegal lobbying and sending the press release on his state email account. He also promised an internal review of Wielgus’ 2014 wolf paper.

By May, WSU President Kirk Schulz informed Mittelhammer he was concerned WSU might be branded with an “anti-ranching sentiment.”

In other emails, the university president and Mittelhammer agreed they needed to address the school’s relationship with ranchers in future faculty hires. “I feel that they need an internal champion or person that they can work with,” Schulz wrote.

“No evidence of research misconduct”

By then, WSU had cleared Wielgus of any scientific wrongdoing. On May 29, Christopher Keane, the vice president for research at WSU, wrote Kretz and Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, thanking them for meeting with him in Olympia to express concern about Wielgus’ research.

However, the result of the subsequent independent review completed by a WSU statistician was clear: “There is no evidence of research misconduct in this matter,” Keane wrote.

But for faculty at WSU, the message nonetheless was clear, said Donna Potts, president of the local chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the nation’s oldest and largest advocacy group for academic freedom. “It was very disturbing; I had never seen anything like it,” Potts, a member of the English department, said of WSU’s treatment of a senior faculty member.

Robert Wielgus relaxes at his wolf camp, used when trapping and collaring wolves for his work studying the interactions of cattle and wolves. His studies have found most wolves don’t attack livestock and that killing wolves to protect cattle and sheep can be counterproductive, leading to more mayhem by socially destabilized wolf packs. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)

Cary Nelson, former national president of the AAUP, who spoke on the issue at WSU last spring, said pressure from industry and from lawmakers friendly to it is nothing unusual. “But it’s up to a university to protect its faculty.”

Actions by state lawmakers and WSU administrators such as those taken against Wielgus have a “chilling effect” on research that could be perceived as controversial, Nelson said.

Scientists who have worked with Wielgus said they are concerned by what they see.

“It’s not that Rob hasn’t stirred up the hornets’ nest — he can test the limits and some people think he is not very diplomatic,” said Gary Koehler, of Wenatchee, who collaborated with Wielgus on bear and cougar research before retiring from the department after 14 years. “But he is a straight shooter.

“Rob is without a doubt one of the top carnivore ecologists in North America. I think Rob has been thrown under the bus.”

Pediatricians say Florida hurt sick kids to help big GOP donors

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Pediatricians say Florida hurt sick kids to help big GOP donors

Updated 12:03 AM ET, Sat August 19, 2017

St. Augustine, Florida (CNN) When he was 11 years old, LJ Stroud of St. Augustine, Florida, had a tooth emerge in a place where no tooth belongs: the roof of his mouth.

LJ was born with severe cleft lip and palate, which explained the strange eruption, as well as the constant ear infections that no antibiotic could remedy.
With her son in terrible pain, Meredith Stroud arranged for surgeries to fix his problems.
But just days before the procedures were to take place, the surgeons’ office called to cancel them.
Like nearly half of all children in Florida, LJ is on Medicaid, which has several types of insurance plans. The state had switched LJ to a new plan, and his surgeons didn’t take it.

Doctors: 'Trick question' hurt sick kids

Doctors: ‘Trick question’ hurt sick kids
LJ wasn’t alone. In the spring and summer of 2015, the state switched more than 13,000 children out of a highly respected program called Children’s Medical Services, or CMS, a part of Florida Medicaid. Children on this plan have serious health problems including birth defects, heart disease, diabetes and blindness.
The state moved the children to other Medicaid insurance plans that don’t specialize in caring for very sick children.
Stroud says that for her son, the consequences were devastating. Despite hours of phone calls, she says, she couldn’t find surgeons on his new insurance plan willing to do the highly specialized procedures he needed. Over the next seven months, her son lost 10 pounds, quit the football team and often missed school.
“He was in pain every day,” Stroud said. “I just felt so helpless. It’s such a horrible feeling where you can’t help your kid.”
LJ filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida, and he was eventually placed back on Children’s Medical Services and received the care he needed. But some Florida pediatricians worry about other children with special health care needs who, two years later, are still off the program.
The doctors aren’t just worried; they’re angry.
First, the data analysis the state used to justify switching the children is “inaccurate” and “bizarre,” according to the researcher who wrote the software used in that analysis.
Second, the screening tool the state used to select which children would be kicked off the program has been called “completely invalid” and “a perversion of science” by top experts in children with special health care needs.
Third, in fall 2015, a state administrative law judge ruled that the Department of Health should stop using the screening tool because it was unlawful. However, even after the judge issued his decision, the department didn’t automatically re-enroll the children or even reach out to the families directly to let them know that re-enrollment was a possibility.
Finally, parents and Florida pediatricians raise questions about the true reasons why Florida’s Republican administration switched the children’s health plans. They question whether it was to financially reward insurance companies that had donated millions of dollars to the Republican Party of Florida.
“This was a way for the politicians to repay the entities that had contributed to their political campaigns and their political success, and it’s the children who suffered,” said Dr. Louis St. Petery, former executive vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Experts outside Florida are also disturbed that the children were switched out of CMS, a program that’s served as a model for other states for more than 40 years.
“CMS is well-known and well-respected,” said Dr. James Perrin, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “It’s one of the earlier programs to build in assurances that these kids get the kind of care they need.”
“These are the sickest and most vulnerable kids, and (changing their insurance) can mean life or death for them,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University. “This is really very troubling.”
Dr. Rishi Agrawal, an associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, agreed, adding that Florida should have more carefully considered how the insurance switch would affect the children’s health care.
“The process in Florida was particularly abrupt and poorly executed,” he said.
Mara Gambineri, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said that “at no time (during the insurance switch) did children go without medically necessary services.”
State officials, including a spokesman for Governor Rick Scott’s office, initially declined to comment directly on the pediatricians’ and parents’ concerns that the children might have been switched to benefit contributors to the Republican Party of Florida. On Friday, after this story was published, the Florida Department of Health released a statement asserting that such a claim “is 100 percent false.”
“The department’s number one priority is protecting the health and well-being of all Florida residents, especially children with special health care needs,” Gambineri wrote in an earlier email. “The department remains committed to providing quality health care services to Florida’s children with special health care needs.”

A mother’s anguish

In spring 2015, LJ’s mother received a phone call from a nurse at the Florida Department of Health.
Stroud had no idea that one word she would say to that nurse — just one single word — would cause her son months of pain and suffering.

Meredith Stroud's son, LJ, was born with cleft lip and palate. He lost his Children's Medical Service coverage when he was 11.

The nurse asked Stroud a series of questions, including whether LJ was limited in his ability to do things other children could do.
Despite his birth defect, LJ goes to school and plays with friends, so she answered no.
Stroud says that because of that answer, LJ lost his insurance with CMS, the program that has cared for children with special health care needs in Florida for 40 years, and was put on a different Medicaid insurance plan.
LJ was one of 13,074 Florida children kicked off CMS — that’s about one in five children in the program — as a result of the telephone survey, according to a presentationtestimony and a letter from Florida’s top health officials.
Stroud thinks back to her answer to the nurse’s question about limitations.
“That question’s not fair,” Stroud said of the one that got her child kicked off CMS. “What [the Florida Department of Health] did was totally wrong.”
“It was a trick question,” she added.

Pediatrician: ‘A truly duplicitous question’

Experts agree with her.
“I personally find it pretty astonishing that they can take a survey question like that and use it to justify the de-enrolling of these kids,” said Dr. Jay Berry, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School who studies policies for children with special health care needs.
What Florida did was “completely invalid,” added Dr. John Neff, professor emeritus of pediatrics at the University of Washington, another expert on children with special health care needs.
The pediatricians explained that many children with serious and chronic medical conditions — such as cleft lip and palate, HIV, diabetes and cystic fibrosis — are often able to do things other children can do. However, they still require extensive and highly specialized medical care.
The question the Florida Department of Health nurses asked — “Is your child limited or prevented in any way in his or her ability to do the things most children of the same age can do?” — would lead to disqualifying children who truly have special medical needs from a program designed for them, said Stephen Blumberg, associate director for science at the National Center for Health Statistics and one of the world’s leading experts on the epidemiology of children with special health care needs.
Question No. 3

“Is your child limited or prevented in any way in his or her ability to do the things most children of the same age can do?”

“You would get false negatives. Your conclusion would be that a child does not have special health care needs when, in fact, the child does,” he added.
Gambineri, the Department of Health spokeswoman, said it no longer uses the survey that resulted in 13,074 children being removed from CMS.
“It is unfortunate the negativity surrounding this issue is a continued topic of inquiry, as the department and our stakeholders have put in a significant amount of time and effort to move past this issue for the benefit of the children we serve,” she wrote.

Six pediatricians from across Florida gathered to tell CNN their concerns about children losing CMS coverage. They accuse the state of hurting sick kids to help big GOP donors.

But pediatricians in Florida point out that many children who were removed from Children’s Medical Services using the controversial questionnaire were never put back on.
“This was a truly duplicitous question,” said Dr. Philip Colaizzo, a pediatrician in Jupiter, Florida, who said that many of his patients with special health care needs were taken off CMS. “It was a trick question.”
“It’s a perversion of science,” said Dr. Jeffrey Goldhagen, professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine and medical director of the Bower Lyman Center for Medically Complex Children at Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
Goldhagen added that he was speaking for himself and not the institutions where he works.
“It was a scam job,” added Dr. Nancy Wright, a pediatric endocrinologist in Tallahassee who said that dozens of her patients with diabetes were removed from the program.

Dr. Nancy Wright, a pediatric endocrinologist, says dozens of her patients lost their coverage on Children's Medical Services. "For the children with diabetes that I work with, it was a disaster," she said.

“They really tried their darnedest to kick the kids out of CMS,” added Dr. Carrol Fenn, an orthodontist in West Palm Beach. “They’ve messed up kids’ lives.”
“They’re the most vulnerable of our population, and that they can be booted off the plan that was designed to help them is just amazing. How can someone in an office make a decision like that?” asked Dr. John Obi, an adjunct clinical professor in plastic surgery at the University of Florida, who operates on children with cleft lip and palate.
“I congratulate whoever came up with that question,” he added wryly. “If you want to exclude virtually anybody, that’s the way to do it.”

Johns Hopkins expert: ‘I’m speechless’

Christina Bethell’s team came up with that question — and she’s furious.
Bethell is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She and her team spent many years and millions of dollars coming up with the right questions to accurately identify children across the United States who might have special health care needs.
The list of questions — known as the Children with Special Health Care Needs Screener — is publicly available on the Hopkins website. Many state and federal agencies use it to help decide which children might benefit from special health services.
The Florida Department of Health, however, used the questions to do something completely different: to kick children out of a program.
That’s scientifically invalid, Bethell said. Using the questions that way — especially the question about limitations — would lead to denying children with special health care needs the services they require.
“I’m speechless,” she said.
To make matters worse, Bethell said, Florida repeatedly and publicly cited research done by her group at Hopkins — the Children and Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative — to support the children’s removal from CMS.
“I feel really manipulated,” she said.
She thinks of the children who were taken off CMS and fumes that the tool used to remove them was her own work.
“I’m angry,” she said. “And I’m crestfallen for these families.”

Grave consequences for Florida children

The Shabanehs in Tallahassee are one of those families.
Aref Shabaneh, 8, is blind, and his sister, Yasmeen, 11, is severely visually impaired. Their mother, Reema Shabaneh, says they were kicked off CMS in 2015.

Aref Shabaneh lost his Children's Medical Services coverage in 2015. He is blind and reads in Braille.

Shabaneh says she told the Florida Department of Health nurse that they didn’t have limitations.
“Aref wants to do everything by himself,” she said. “He can play ball with friends. The ball has a bell, so he can hear it coming.”
After they were kicked off CMS, Shabaneh said, she couldn’t find an ophthalmologist on the new insurance plan willing to care for her children.
“I was so scared,” she said.
When Jennifer Rodriguez received the phone call from the Department of Health nurse, she said, she told the nurse she didn’t know how to answer the question about limitations. Her son, Alejandro, suffers from a congenital heart defect, asthma and kidney problems. Sometimes, his heart races and he has trouble breathing, but other times, he feels up to playing soccer with his friends.
“When I tried to explain the answer, she cut me off and said she was just doing her job and needed a yes or a no,” she said.
Rodriguez says she answered that her son, who was 10 at the time, did not have limitations. He then lost his CMS coverage.
“It makes me angry, because you would think that since he’s seeing a cardiologist, a nephrologist, a urologist and an asthma doctor, they would see he’s not your average child,” she said.
LJ, Alejandro and the Shabaneh children filed lawsuits and were put back on CMS. They were represented by the Public Interest Law Center at Florida State University.

Alejandro Rodriguez wears a nebulizer mask to help him breathe. After he filed a lawsuit, the state put him back on Children's Medical Services.

Many Florida pediatricians say their patients also suffered when they were taken off CMS and put on other Medicaid plans. The doctors say those other plans typically have fewer pediatric specialists than CMS, which specializes in caring for very sick children.
Dr. Lisa Cosgrove, a pediatrician in Merritt Island, Florida, said she had a difficult time finding an orthopedist to treat a 6-year-old with a broken elbow who had been taken off CMS. The girl ended up having surgery later than she should have and now can’t extend her elbow all the way.
She said a baby born with a clubfoot also suffered because she couldn’t find an orthopedist willing to take the baby’s plan. The baby couldn’t have the necessary casts to twist the foot back into place and may need surgery, Cosgrove said.
Dr. Elizabeth Curry, a pediatrician in Port St. Joe, Florida, said that last year, she took care of a baby whose eye wiggled back and forth involuntarily, which can be a sign of a brain tumor.
Curry said it took her more than a month to find an ophthalmologist willing to take the baby’s Medicaid plan — and the doctor she finally found was three hours away, in Pensacola.
Fortunately, the baby turned out to be fine.
“This child could have had cancer. That’s a kid who should have seen a doctor right away,” Curry said. “I feel terrible for these children. It makes me so angry.”

Dr. Elizabeth Curry, a Florida pediatrician, says some of her patients didn't get the treatment they needed because the state had removed them from Children's Medical Services.

Because of problems like these, switching the children’s insurance “was a complete dereliction of Florida’s responsibility to children,” said Goldhagen, the professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
Gambineri, the spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Health, said the children didn’t suffer as a result of the switch, because the insurance plans they were moved to were “more than capable” of caring for them. She added that even before the 13,074 children were switched, those plans cared for tens of thousands of children with special health needs.
Other pediatricians agree that plans besides CMS have done a good job of caring for these very sick children.
The other plans “do a pretty good job with our families,” said Dr. Karalee Kulek-Luzey, medical director of the Pediatric Health Care Alliance, a group practice with multiple locations in the Tampa area. “They’re working really hard.”
“For the most part, they do a good job,” said Dr. Michael Freimark, a pediatrician in Plantation, Florida.
“We have a good relationship with the plans,” said Dr. Michael Gervasi, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Community Health Centers, a large medical practice with offices in several counties. Most of the time, he said, the plans take care of the children’s needs, but if there’s ever a problem, his practice contacts the plan, and they fix it.

Aref's older sister, Yasmeen Shabaneh, was also was removed from Children's Medical Services. She has a vision condition so serious that even a minor bump could cause her retinas to detach.

Florida’s ‘outreach’ to experts

In January 2016, about eight months after the Florida Department of Health started to move the 13,074 children out of CMS, Jennifer Tschetter, then the department’s chief operating officer, testified before the state legislature. She said that the decision to use the Hopkins screening tool was made “in consultation with … national experts.”
But it remains unclear who those experts were.
Tschetter, who has since left state government, did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Gambineri, the Florida health department spokeswoman, said the department did “research” into what Louisiana, California, Texas and New York “were doing and experiences they had in regard to clinical eligibility for children with special health care needs.”
When asked for the names of individuals Florida consulted in those states, Gambineri didn’t respond.
Gambineri added that “outreach” was made to the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.
An official at that agency said she spoke with a Florida health official.
Dr. Marie Mann, senior medical adviser in the Division of Services for Children with Special Health Needs at the federal agency’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau, said she spoke with Stannard, who works for the Florida Department of Health.
Mann says she told Stannard she couldn’t give her any guidance.
“I told her I was not in a position to provide advice,” Mann said.
Mann said she suggested that Florida health officials reach out to Daniel Armstrong and Dr. Jeffrey Brosco, director and associate director respectively of the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
“We will make sure they’re both involved in this review process,” Stannard wrote back to Mann in an email obtained by CNN under the Freedom of Information Act.
CNN asked Gambineri, the department spokeswoman, whether the department ever reached out to Armstrong to review and make recommendations on using the telephone survey to screen children out of CMS.
“Not to our knowledge,” Gambineri answered.
“I played no role in the decision-making process related to the use of the tool for the Children’s Medical Services program,” Armstrong wrote in an email to CNN.
Brosco said he told the Department of Health that in his opinion, a child should not be kicked off CMS based on a parent’s answer to the question about the child’s limitations.
“I gave them my feedback, and they said, ‘thank you for your work,’ ” Brosco said.
In July, Brosco was named the Florida Department of Health’s deputy secretary for CMS.

Christmas shopping at the Florida Mall

Despite the lack of support from the very experts they’d consulted, Florida health officials forged ahead with using the phone survey to disqualify children from CMS.
They had a schedule to stick to.
In November 2014, state officials set out to “go live” with the phone survey in six months, according to a timeline developed by the state and obtained by CNN under the Freedom of Information Act.
Before implementing the surveys, the officials gave themselves 21 days to “solicit feedback from the field” about the questions they would ask the parents.
One of the first things they did was to ask one of the state’s most experienced pediatricians to leave a meeting.
It was St. Petery, who at the time was the executive vice president of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Medicaid rules and regulations. He’d served as interim director of CMS for six months during the mid-1970s.
He’d also been a thorn in the side of the state Department of Health for years. He’d been instrumental in a lawsuit that accused the state of failing to reimburse doctors properly in the Medicaid program and to ensure that children receive adequate care.
His side eventually won that lawsuit, and the American Academy of Pediatrics gave him a prestigious award for being “a tireless advocate for children’s health and well-being.”

Dr. Louis St. Petery, a pediatric cardiologist and frequent critic of Florida's health policy, was asked to leave a state meeting where Children's Medical Services screening was discussed.

On December 13, 2014, St. Petery showed up at the Department of Health meeting. It was for the regional medical directors of CMS, the group of pediatricians who help run the program. St. Petery wasn’t one of the directors, but he’d been attending their meetings for many years in his role with the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
St. Petery said that just before the meeting started, Tschetter, then the department’s chief operating officer, approached him.
“She said, didn’t I want to go Christmas shopping at the Florida Mall?” St. Petery remembered. The mall was adjacent to the conference center in Orlando where the meeting was taking place.
St. Petery said he told Tschetter that he hates shopping, especially around the holidays, and wanted to stay at the meeting.
“I protested. I asked her, is this meeting not in the sunshine?” he said, referring to Florida’s Sunshine Law, which gives the public the right to access most government meetings.
“After she told me for the third time to leave, I decided not to create a scene,” he said.
St. Petery got up and left.
Other doctors watched the action, stunned.
“We were all kind of shaking,” said Dr. Barbara Rumberger, one of the CMS regional medical directors who attended the meeting.
After St. Petery departed, health officials explained that they would start screening children off of CMS. Their justification: a new analysis showing that half the children on CMS might not belong there.
There are no minutes for this meeting, according to Department of Health officials, but a year later, Tschetter presented similar data to the Florida Legislature.

A ‘totally inaccurate’ analysis

By Florida law, a child can be in CMS only if he or she has a “chronic and serious” condition requiring health care “of a type or amount beyond that which is generally required by children.”
The analysis Tschetter presented showed that about half of the children on CMS had lower than average risk scores, an assessment of how much a patient uses health care services.
Tschetter called these results “surprising.” By legislative mandate, children on CMS are supposed to have health needs greater those of other children.
“The analysis made clear, certainly to the department, that we were not meeting legislative direction: (that) the children in the plan have both chronic and serious health care conditions,” Tschetter told legislators. “It was clear to the department that something had to be done, because complying with legislative direction is certainly not optional.”
But an expert who developed the software Florida used to make that data analysis said the state did its calculations incorrectly.
“It’s totally inaccurate,” said Todd Gilmer, co-developer of the Chronic Illness and Disability Payment System and chief of the division of health policy at the University of California, San Diego.
Gilmer’s software, which is used by dozens of state Medicaid programs, tracks patients’ diagnoses and their prescription drug use to calculate risk scores for each individual.
After viewing Florida officials’ analysis of the data, he said they made two errors when they calculated that half the children on CMS had below-average risk scores.
First, he explained that his software relies on doctors’ diagnoses, and Florida failed to account for the fact that doctors frequently don’t document a child’s full diagnosis in the medical record. For example, if a quadriplegic child goes to the doctor because of bedsores, doctors often write down the reason the child came in — the bedsores — instead of the more serious diagnosis of quadriplegia.
Second, he said, Florida did the wrong calculation for disabled children, who represent 40% of the patients on CMS, according to Mallory McManus, a spokeswoman for Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration.
He said his software compares disabled children with each other. Even the ones who fall in the lower half of the risk-score spectrum still have serious and chronic illnesses, he said, such as HIV or heart failure.
He said that what Florida did was akin to assembling a group of people who are over 7 feet tall and calling the bottom half of that group short.
Gilmer called Florida’s analysis “kind of bizarre” and said he was disappointed to see his software “misapplied” by the Florida Department of Health.
Spokeswomen for the Florida Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration did not respond directly to Gilmer’s criticism.
Gambineri, the health department spokeswoman, said that the department no longer uses the screening method that it used in 2015 and that parents can ask to have their children re-screened at any time.
“Our mission is now and has always been to provide the best health care possible to the populations that we serve,” McManus wrote in an email.

Pediatrician: ‘We were just irrelevant’

Pediatricians say that by the time the Department of Health meeting was held at the Orlando conference center at the end of 2014, they felt like Florida was dead-set on screening a large number of children off CMS.
They said state officials didn’t listen to their concerns, even though they were stated repeatedly, both in person and in writing.
At the meeting, health officials asked the pediatricians to tell them what was on their minds, according to Rumberger, one of the doctors who was there.
She said she and her colleagues brought up concerns that children might be taken off CMS inappropriately.
The Department of Health official wrote down what the doctors said on pieces of paper taped to the wall, Rumberger said. The official then told the doctors that these were issues to discuss at another time.
“She said, ‘We’re going to park these. We’re putting these ideas in the parking lot for some time, and we’re not talking about these things today,’ ” Rumberger remembered, adding that she was speaking on behalf of herself and not in her role as a CMS regional medical director.
“We were all amazed at what they did,” she added.
A few months later, the state held a series of telephone conference calls with the same CMS regional medical directors.
“They didn’t ask us ‘What do you think?’ or ‘Do you have any suggestions?’ ” Rumberger said. “It was just ‘This is how we’re going to do it.’ It was clear they didn’t want to have a free discussion.”
“It appears to be a very conscious decision to not get input and not receive any dissension,” said Goldhagen, the professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida. “We were just irrelevant.”
Dr. Rex Northup, another CMS regional medical director and associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Florida College of Medicine, agrees.
“It was like, ‘When we want your opinion on a given topic, we’ll let you know, and we’ll provide that opinion to you,’ ” Northup said, adding that he speaks for himself and not the university or any other institution.
Several doctors present on those conference calls said they voiced their concerns anyway.
There’s no record of these concerns. According to the Florida Department of Health, no minutes were taken of these phone conferences.
CNN asked the Florida Department of Health about the meeting where St. Petery was asked to leave and about doctors’ complaints that the state steamrolled through a screening tool that would harm sick children.
“When CMS began the process of implementing a new screening tool in 2014, the department may have underestimated the need for stakeholder input and the time required to obtain feedback and ensure our community was comfortable with the mechanisms for determining clinical eligibility,” responded Gambineri, the Department of Health spokeswoman.
She added that the department has “engaged our stakeholders using several methods” including public meetings to solicit input from patients, parents and providers and “remains open to feedback and input in order to best serve children with serious and chronic medical conditions.”
True to its schedule, the state started screening children off CMS in May 2015.
Florida pediatricians repeatedly told the state that it was hurting sick, vulnerable children.
In August 2015, Goldhagen, Rumberger, Northup and 11 other doctors with positions at CMS wrote a letter to a Department of Health official saying the screening process was “flawed” and was removing too many children.
The doctors did not receive a response, Goldhagen said.
Two months later, St. Petery wrote to Department of Health officials, sharply criticizing the use of the screening tool.
He said he never received a response, either.

Dr. Elizabeth Curry, examining Micah Creamer, says she wrote to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, expressing her concerns about patients being kicked off Children's Medical Services, but the agency didn't respond.

Curry, the Port Saint Joe pediatrician who practices in a rural area of the Florida Panhandle, said she also complained to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration about children being kicked off CMS, along with other issues affecting children on Medicaid.
She said the agency worked with her on some of the other issues but didn’t respond to her complaints about the children being taken off CMS.
“Our Agency has been in contact with the provider and is working with the health plan to resolve what issues might be resolved,” wrote McManus, the agency spokeswoman.
Curry said she took her complaints even higher.
“I even called the governor’s office once and left a message,” she said. “I admit that I finally gave up. I’m just trying to take care of my patients.”
Pediatricians interviewed for this story said they felt pressure from the state not to speak to the media about the removal of the children from CMS.
On November 15, 2016, Dr. John Curran, then the Florida Department of Health’s deputy secretary for CMS, said on a conference call that a CNN reporter was working on this story, according to several doctors on the call.
That evening, a department official wrote an email to the doctors who’d been on the call. It advised these pediatricians that prior to responding to media inquiries, they should contact the department’s communications director.
“I’m going to be so fired for saying all these things,” Rumberger said.
But she and other pediatricians say they’re speaking up because they feel that the Department of Health hurt children because they didn’t listen to their concerns.
They say it could be because pediatricians don’t tend to have millions of dollars to donate to political campaigns.
But insurance companies do.

‘Like a plot in a Carl Hiaasen novel’

All of this — the telephone survey, the question about limitations, the analysis that’s been called flawed — leaves many Florida parents and pediatricians suspicious about why the state wanted to take 13,074 children off CMS and why it worked so hard and so quickly to do it.
Switching the children from CMS to the other Medicaid plans didn’t save taxpayers money, according to McManus, the agency spokeswoman.
The doctors wonder, then, whether the inspiration for the change was political: to send taxpayers’ dollars to generous donors to the Florida Republican Party.
CMS is a public program; it’s not owned by a private insurance company.
When the children were taken off CMS, they were switched to 11 insurance plans that are owned by private companies. The parent companies of nine of those 11 plans donated a total of more than $8 million to Florida Republican Party committees in the five years before the children were switched.
“I knew it had to be about money,” said Wright, the pediatric endocrinologist in Tallahassee who said that dozens of her patients had their insurance switched. “This sounds very believable for Florida, and I’m from Florida.”
“When this was all unfolding, I told my office manager, ‘I feel like we’re in a plot in a Carl Hiaasen novel,’ ” she added, referring to the Miami Herald columnist who writes about politics and corruption in Florida.

Dr. Nancy Wright, a pediatric endocrinologist, says she thinks the state's motivation for taking patients off Children's Medical Services "appears to be about money. ... It's clearly not medical."

The companies that own the nine insurance plans contributed $8.6 million to Florida Republican Party committees from 2010 to 2014, according to an analysis done for CNN by the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit group.
Here’s a breakdown of how much money each insurance company with a Medicaid contract contributed to Florida Republican Party committees from 2010 to 2014:
  • $5.9 million from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. Florida True Health is an affiliate of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. At the time the money was contributed, Florida True Health owned 40% of Prestige Health Choice, which has a Medicaid contract with the state of Florida. In 2015, Florida True Health purchased Prestige outright.
  • $90,000 from Simply Health, which owns a Medicaid plan called Better Health.
  • $849,433 from Miguel Fernandez, the former chairman of Simply Health. In addition, Fernandez donated about $1.3 million to Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political action committee from 2010 to 2014.

Insurance companies’ outsize contributions to Florida Republicans

Nearly all states pay insurance companies to insure some of their Medicaid patients; this is not unique to Florida.
And insurance companies often contribute money to state political parties. That’s not unique to Florida, either.
What is unusual is the size of the contributions, even for a large state.
Take UnitedHealthcare, an insurance giant with business in all 50 states. From 2010 to 2014, United contributed $442,500 to Florida Republican Party committees, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The company’s next largest contribution to any other state political party was $145,000 to California Democrats — less than half the Florida amount.
Humana, another insurance company with a national reach, gave substantially more money to Florida Republican Party committees than to any other state political party committees.
From 2010 to 2014, Humana donated $482,815 to Florida Republican Party committees. Its next largest contribution was $213,823 to Florida Democrats. The next largest contribution after that was $22,000 to the Illinois GOP, less than one-20th the size of the contribution to Florida Republicans.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida gave Florida Republican Party committees $5.9 million from 2010 to 2014 and gave Florida Democrats $1.8 million. The next largest contribution after that from any other Blue Cross and Blue Shield company in the United States was $730,696 from Blue Shield of California to Democrats in that state — about one-eighth the size of the contribution to Florida Republicans.

Florida’s payments to the insurance companies

Nearly all states pay private insurance companies monthly premiums to insure Medicaid patients. It’s become big business.
The Florida Department of Health declined to say how much it paid the private insurance companies to insure the 13,074 children when they were switched out of CMS.
“If they got 13,000 new kids, (it’s) that times however many dollars per member per month,” St. Petery said. “I think that’s a lot of money when you start talking about that many kids.”

LJ Stroud sued the state of Florida to be put back on Children's Medical Services. He has now had the procedures that he needs.

These children came from CMS, a Medicaid program for sick children, and the state pays insurance companies more money to care for such children.
This is how it works, according to McManus, the spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.
Florida takes a look at all the people who’ve signed up with an insurance company and calculates a risk score for that group based on factors such as the age of the enrollees in the plan and their health conditions.
A plan with the lowest risk score has a “typical population” and might be paid a rate of, for example, $320 per person per month, McManus said. A plan with sicker enrollees might have a risk score that’s twice as high and so would be paid $640 per person per month, she added.
The numbers can get even higher from there.
“The state will pay a pretty good rate for these children,” said Agrawal, the pediatrician at Northwestern who studies health care systems for children with special medical needs.
“They could get paid thousands more per month for a child with serious medical needs,” said Steve Schramm, founder and managing director of Optumas, a health care consulting group.
“The enhanced reimbursement may be 10 times what the insurance companies get for a well child,” said Goldhagen, former director of Florida’s Duval County Health Department.

Yasmeen Shabaneh sued Florida and was placed back on Children's Medical Services.

Sick children are, of course, also costlier for insurance companies because they need more care. But insurance plans monitor that care to manage costs.
“Plans have gotten very sophisticated in their ability to manage very sick kids, so their willingness to take very sick kids is great,” said Jeff Myers, president and CEO of Medicaid Health Plans of America, an industry group representing insurance companies.
Pediatricians questioned whether such outsize political donations were an attempt to gain influence and favor with Florida’s Republican administration, which orchestrated the transfer of the children out of CMS and to the private companies.
“It certainly raises a lot of suspicion and concern,” said Northup, the associate professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
“Why would they make contributions in the hundreds of thousands and the millions to Florida Republicans? Why would they be so uniquely committed to Republicans in Florida? It gives one pause,” he added. “If you follow the money, at the very least, it’s worrisome.”
“It’s the left-hand-washing-the-right-hand kind of business,” said Dr. Joseph Chiaro, who was Florida’s deputy secretary of health from 2005 to 2011. “It breaks my heart.”
Six Florida pediatricians gathered in Orlando to tell CNN their concerns. They practice in rural, suburban and urban areas. Some of them are Republicans, and others are Democrats.
They said they feared that big donors had influence on the state’s decision-making process and that in many cases, the children suffered as a result.
“I don’t see this in writing anywhere, but my impression is, this was a way for political payback at the expense of the sickest of the Medicaid children,” St. Petery said.
“It just comes back to money or power. It’s not about health care for the children,” said Wright, the pediatric endocrinologist in Tallahassee.
“Just follow the money,” said Colaizzo, who runs a rural health care clinic in Pahokee, Florida.
State leaders “don’t give a damn about the kids. They don’t give a damn about the families,” said Dr. Marcy Howard, a pediatrician in Crystal River, Florida.

State officials and insurance companies respond

State health officials did not respond directly to the pediatricians’ concerns that campaign contributors had influence over Republican leadership’s decision to take the children off CMS.
“The Statewide Medicaid Managed Care program was designed to provide comprehensive care to recipients through high quality health plans with a payment structure designed to ensure that plans paid an appropriate rate based on the health conditions of those enrolled in their plan,” McManus, a spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, wrote in an email.
“The program currently covers more than 2 million of Florida’s children, offers the strongest provider network and access standards in program history, and provides families with a choice of high quality, nationally accredited plans so that they can choose the plan that best suits their needs, including specialty plans for those who qualify.”

Alejandro Rodriguez also sued the state of Florida and was placed back on Children's Medical Services.

CNN reached out to officials at all nine insurance companies. Two responded.
“WellCare contributes to a variety of organizations that shape health care policy, including the Florida Republican Party committees, the Democratic Party committees and those without political affiliation,” wrote Alissa Lawver, a spokeswoman for WellCare. “The company also discloses and publicly reports all political contributions on its website above and beyond the requirements of state and federal law. As a provider of managed care, WellCare is committed to partnering with the state of Florida to provide access to quality, affordable health care solutions for the state’s most vulnerable populations. We maintain a robust provider network and offer comprehensive care management services to create personalized, coordinated care plans to help improve and maintain the health of families and children across the state.”
She added that WellCare has accountability to Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, “which provides careful oversight of the state’s Medicaid program to ensure all members, including children that transitioned from Children’s Medical Services, receive access to the right care, at the right time and in the most appropriate setting.”
Ethan Slavin, a spokesman for Aetna, said the company makes “donations to campaigns for both major political parties to support and address issues that impact our customers and members.”
He added that “we are required to meet state rules and regulations regarding our network of health care providers and are consistently compliant with those requirements” and that “we regularly work with our members, health care providers and the state of Florida to move children with special health care needs into the Children’s Medical Services program, when appropriate and in the best interest of our members. Our integrated care management program regularly identifies these children and assists in this process.”
Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, founder and former chairman of Better Health, said he had contributed several million dollars to both Republicans and Democrats. He added that states move Medicaid patients into the care of private companies so they can “move the risk off their financial books.”

A victory for Florida families

Many pediatricians use strong language to describe their anger and frustration with the Florida Department of Health and what it did in 2015 to the 13,074 children.
“This has just been a nightmare, and we’re still experiencing the fallout,” said Dr. Toni Richards-Rowley, treasurer of the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“It’s disgusting,” said Cosgrove, the pediatrician in Merritt Island. “It’s all about money and not looking out for the children.”
“Honestly, it makes me want to puke,” said Lida Sarnecky, nurse manager of the team at the University of Florida that takes care of children with cleft lip and palate.
“In my heart, what I want to do is go down to Governor Scott’s office and ask him, ‘What if this were your child or grandchild who couldn’t receive the care they needed? How would you feel then?’ ” she said.
By June 2015, some Florida parents had had enough.
Five children, including Alejandro Rodriguez, and Yasmeen and Aref Shabaneh, sued the state Department of Health to get it to stop using the telephone questionnaire to take patients off CMS, claiming that the state Department of Health hadn’t gone through formal rulemaking procedures.
The children won.
The state didn’t fight the ruling. Instead, it came up with a new way to screen children for the program — one that doesn’t rely on a telephone survey and takes into consideration a child’s diagnosis.

Aref Shabaneh lost his Children's Medical Services coverage when his mother told the state he didn't have limitations. "Aref wants to do everything by himself," she said.

Many parents and pediatricians assumed the state would soon reach out directly to parents to let them know they could reapply to have their children put back on CMS.
They were very wrong.
Five months after the judge’s decision, St. Petery, the Tallahassee pediatric cardiologist, implored the secretary of the Department of Health to reach out to parents.
To St. Petery, the reasoning was obvious: A judge had said that the state had violated the law. Reaching out to the parents was a way of correcting wrongdoing.
The state had a notice on its website about the ability to be rescreened for CMS, and at a meeting with state legislators, a department official had given out a phone number parents could call. But St. Petery knew that busy parents of very sick children might not attend official state meetings or notice pages on government websites.
“I would hope that you would consider notifying each of the parents of those 13,074 children that the tool by which their child was screened out of CMS has been declared invalid, and that they have the right to appeal that decision,” St. Petery wrote to Dr. John Armstrong, then secretary of the Department of Health and the state surgeon general.
Armstrong wrote back that doing so would violate federal regulations, since the children had been switched to other Medicaid insurance plans.
“Federal regulations prohibit direct marketing to children currently being served by another managed care plan,” he wrote back to St. Petery.
CNN was unable to reach Armstrong for comment. Gambineri, the Florida Department of Health spokeswoman, said he “is no longer employed by DOH.”
Not satisfied with Armstrong’s response, St. Petery sought help from US Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa. Castor took his concerns to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
On March 23, 2016, an official at that agency sent an email to Justin Senior, then the Medicaid director at Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration. CNN obtained the email under the Freedom of Information Act.
In that email, the federal official explained to Senior that federal regulations do not prohibit Florida from reaching out directly to families.
“To clarify, 42 CFR 438.104 does not prohibit marketing,” wrote Jackie Glaze, associate regional administrator for the Division of Medicaid and Children’s Health at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, citing a federal regulation.
More than a year later, on July 24, 2017, the Florida Department of Health sent a letter to parents letting them know that their children could be screened to get back on CMS. The letter was sent to 6,081 parents whose children were removed from CMS and put on another Medicaid plan and were still on that plan and financially eligible for Medicaid, according to Gambineri, the Florida health department spokeswoman.
That letter was sent nearly two years after the judge’s decision. Pediatricians say they’re angry it took that long to directly let parents know about the possibility of getting back on CMS.
Gambineri said there was concern that parents might get confused.
“It was originally thought to be, and still is considered a risk, in terms of confusion and disruption to families, to send a letter because they have had rescreening available since 2015,” Gambineri said a few months before the letter was sent out.

Nelson Mandela and Mr. Rogers

Now that LJ Stroud is back on CMS, he’s a happy, strapping 13-year-old who loves to play football and horse around with his brother and sisters in the family’s backyard in St. Augustine.
But his mother looks back on the dark days in 2015, after her son was switched off CMS, when she says he would lie on the couch in pain, unable to get the surgeries he needed.
It’s not just her son’s physical pain that makes Stroud angry; it’s his emotional pain.

Since LJ Stroud was placed back on Children's Medical Services, he's been able to play football again.

When LJ was on CMS, Stroud says, he received excellent care and was a contented, well-adjusted child, never thinking of himself as different despite his birth defect.
But she says that when he was in pain because he couldn’t have surgery, he started to feel sorry for himself.
” ‘Why did God make me this way?’ ” she says he asked. ” ‘Why can’t I be like my brothers and sisters?’ “
When she hears about how top Florida officials have spoken with pride of what they did to her son and to more than 13,000 other children, she becomes livid.
Last year, Armstrong, then Florida’s surgeon general and secretary of health, made a presentation to the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet, a panel created by the state Legislature to promote children’s welfare.
Declaring that the Department of Health “cares about every child in Florida,” Armstrong explained how the state removed the 13,074 children from CMS.
Armstrong’s presentation quoted two great advocates for children, Nelson Mandela and Fred Rogers.
First, he quoted Mandela: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
And he quoted Fred Rogers, the star of the children’s television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”: “Anyone who does anything to help a child in life is a hero to me.”
Stroud struggles for words to describe what she thinks of Armstrong quoting these two champions for child welfare.
“It’s just — it’s just disgusting,” she said. “I feel my blood boiling just thinking about it.”

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