Erin Mershon

Aetna Drops Out of 11 Obamacare Insurance Markets
Health plan's withdrawal follows UnitedHealth decision to pull out of 30 states

The big health insurer Aetna Inc. announced late Monday it will largely withdraw from state exchanges set up under the 2010 health care overhaul, citing financial losses attributed in part to a controversial premium stabilization program the law established.

Aetna's exodus from 11 state-based exchanges comes after a more dramatic 30-state withdrawal by UnitedHealth, the nation's largest health insurer. The departures will reduce the market competition that authors of the health law envisioned to keep premiums low and care affordable.

State Health Exchanges Wrestle with Budgets
Early federal grant money from 2010 health care law has largely run out

State-based marketplaces survived startup problems with botched technology and political threats but continue to grapple with a fundamental challenge: financial sustainability.  

The 13 states that run their own exchanges face challenges in raising enough money, through user fees or state funding, to maintain their operations now that about $5 billion in early federal grants has largely run out. As states establish those budgets, they are testing decidedly disparate approaches to investments in priorities like marketing, technology and operations.  

Poll: Clinton's Health Policy Positions Align With More Voters
Voters say rival Trump is not spending enough time on health care

Hillary Clinton may have the edge over Donald Trump when it comes to health care issues, a new poll found.  

About 46 percent of voters said the presumptive Democratic nominee for president best represented their views on health care, according to a July poll from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. That compares to 32 percent who said the same for Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. That could be because voters feel Trump isn't spending enough time on the issue: 56 percent said he didn't pay enough attention to health care, compared to 35 percent who said the same for Clinton.  

Republicans Say Democrats Obstructing Fetal Tissue Probe
Democrats ramp up efforts to disband panel leading the investigation

Republican members on a controversial panel investigating fetal tissue donation practices plan to double down on their efforts to uncover documents from those providers. They slammed their Democratic counterparts Tuesday for what they called "inappropriate" attempts to obstruct those efforts so far.  

The panel, formed after the release last summer of sting videos allegedly showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue, outlined in an 88-page report Thursday industry practices it says are more motivated by profit than women's health. In a news conference, Chairwoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said many of the committee's efforts have been slowed by Democratic obstruction.  

Insurers Rally to Defend Obamacare Risk Payments
GOP-sponsored bill seen as another bid to undermine health law

Insurers are ramping up lobbying to defeat legislation that would limit their payments under one of the 2010 health law's stabilization programs, according to congressional staff and outside experts.  

The bill (S 2803), from Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse would slash in half the Department of Health and Human Services general management budget, unless the agency pays certain funds from the so-called reinsurance program to the Treasury Department. Until now, the agency has prioritized its payments to insurance companies and not yet paid into the Treasury, a practice it has justified under the health law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152).  

Abortion Rights Advocates Laud High Court Decision
Women's health battle reverberates on campaign trail

The Supreme Court ruling Monday that voided Texas requirements that abortion clinics meet certain safety standards and that providers be affiliated with nearby hospitals is reviving a fight over women's health that is reverberating on the campaign trail.  

The 5-3 decision in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt refocused attention on the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Senate Republicans have refused to consider President Barack Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, to fill the position, leaving the court with eight justices.  

Medicaid Plans Succeed in Obamacare as Others Struggle
Some smaller insurers are outperforming broader industry on exchanges

Smaller insurers with experience in Medicaid, such as Centene Corp. and Molina Healthcare, are outperforming the broader insurance industry on the federal health exchanges. Their success is putting a spotlight on their business model as the Obama administration and other insurers seek to stabilize the fledgling individual market.  

If Medicaid-like plan features become the norm, consumers and medical providers would be substantially affected. Such plans are often popular in the exchanges for their low premiums, but consumers have criticized limits on their access to medical providers such as doctors. And physicians fault the plans for low reimbursement rates.  

What You Missed: House Fetal Tissue Hearing

The House Energy and Commerce Select Investigative Panel held a hearing on the pricing of fetal tissue Wednesday, April 20. Roll Call summarizes the three-hour hearing in two minutes....
Spanish-Speaking Members Bring Camaraderie, Constituent Comfort

After Rep. Grace Napolitano casts her vote on the House floor, she always heads straight for the same corner: the “barrio in the back,” as it’s called by those who know it.

Just to the right of the door closest to the elevators, near the back of the House chamber, congregate those lawmakers who are fluent in Spanish. There they chat about “anything and everything,” the California Democrat said, from a piece of legislation to a newly drawn district to a family member’s health.

Bob Graham: Creating Fiction From Reality
Graham’s First Novel Pulls From Time in Senate

First-time fiction authors often write themselves into their novels, following  the age-old advice to “write what you know.” Former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) did conjure up a heroic Senator — but he kills the character off in the first few pages.

His new novel, “Keys to the Kingdom,” isn’t about dreaming up a better version of himself. Instead, Graham wrote the book as a way to share censored information. It draws on his knowledge gleaned from 10 years of service on the Intelligence Committee, which he was chairman of through 9/11 and the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Lawmakers Learn to Juggle Family, Office Duty

When Rep. Wally Herger went door to door for his first campaign, he and his wife weren’t pulling the traditional wagon full of literature around the neighborhood. Theirs was filled with small children. 

The California Republican now has nine children, all of whom are an asset on the campaign trail, he said. Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.) had 10 child campaigners — all of whom donated to his campaign without any prompting. Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) remembered similar help from his six kids at parades and events. His children would walk around wearing signs that read “Vote for my Daddy.”

Presiding Loses Its Prestige in Senate

Fifteen minutes into a recent shift as the Senate’s presiding officer, Sen. Al Franken put down a newspaper and pulled out his BlackBerry. Head ducked, the Minnesota Democrat kept the phone under the desk to check his email, until Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) cleared his throat. 

With a quick glance around him, Franken stowed his BlackBerry in time to recognize Vitter’s request to speak.

For These Four Lawmakers, Baseball’s a Household Affair
Congressional Baseball Game Is Just One of Many Activities That Has Helped Build a Bond Among Republican Roommates

When Rep. Erik Paulsen finally found a place to live in Washington, his housemates made him agree to one extra stipulation: He had to play baseball.

“I had no choice,” the Minnesota Republican said jokingly.

Democrats Root for Cedric Richmond

Wearing a purple Colorado Rockies jacket and a look of determination, the rookie phenom whom Democrats have pinned their hopes on for this year’s Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game stepped up to the plate for batting practice.

He swung and missed.

Commission to Pick Redesign for Ellipse Area

After the 9/11 attacks, security concerns required President’s Park South to change from an inviting space to merely an area secured by concrete barriers. 

Now, the Secret Service and the National Capital Planning Commission are hoping to beautify the space, which includes Sherman Park, the First Division Monument and the Ellipse, with a redesign that turns the area’s security into part of its charm.

All the President's Menu

For President Barack Obama, even the location of a dinner date is a political decision.

And so far, he’s shown the same tendency to split the difference in his dining choices that some critics say he has in his policies.

Among the more than a dozen places at which Obama has dined since becoming president are the city’s trendiest hot spots. But a closer look at what he’s eaten shows Obama’s tastes are pretty traditional.
“The restaurants reflect a certain imagination, a certain taste for adventure,” said Todd Kliman, an award-winning restaurant critic and the dining editor at Washingtonian magazine. “There’s a progressive bent to the choices but a conservative leaning to what he’s choosing to order.”

Restaurant Nora, where Obama took his wife for her birthday last year, was America’s first certified organic restaurant. Two other spots on his list, Equinox and Blue Duck Tavern, strive for fresh local ingredients and culinary innovation.

But more often than not, Obama orders a steak or a burger.

Even at restaurants known for other specialties, such as Wolfgang Puck’s Asian-inspired restaurant, the Source, or Michel Richard’s upscale Citronelle, known best for its whimsical fish dishes, Obama tends to order beef.

That might be a nod to his Kansas-raised grandparents or simply because of the time he’s spent in meat-heavy Chicago.

Obama has also sampled the lower end of the city’s dining spectrum, stopping by Five Guys for burgers and Georgetown’s Thomas Sweet for treats with his daughters.

“For every pricey meal at a place like Citronelle or Komi, they seem to temper it with a burger or pizza run,” Amanda McClements, who runs the D.C. food blog Metrocurean, said in an email.

Kliman said that’s a good strategy for eating well.

“When you tend to eat the middle, you get more safe kinds of things. ... If you really want to chow or just have a great sort of gastronomic experience, you tend to go high or low,” he said.

If he hasn’t already, Obama is well on his way to eating at more local restaurants than any president in recent memory.

Until Bill Clinton took office, few presidents ventured out of the White House to try the District’s dining. John F. Kennedy had a few favorite restaurants, but Ronald Reagan and his wife rarely dined out.

George H.W. Bush had a soft spot for the Peking Gourmet in Falls Church, Va., and his son once visited Cactus Cantina, but neither Bush dined extensively in the District.

Obama, however, comes to the District from urban Chicago rather than from a Texas ranch or an Arkansas mansion. In Chicago, he and first lady Michelle enjoyed Italian food at the upscale Spiaggia and frequented Rick Bayless’ Topolobampo, a critically acclaimed Mexican restaurant.

Their familiarity with the Chicago food scene has served them well in Washington, where the family has worked hard to engage with the city’s best and most-loved restaurants.

“This is the longest list we’ve seen in Washington in a long while,” Kliman said. “It’s a great boost for some of these restaurants.”

A visit from Obama certainly puts a restaurant on the map. His two stops at Ray’s Hell Burger helped turn it from a place for hard-core burger fanatics to a tourist destination.

His choices also reflect a broader engagement with the city of Washington­ — not just the city frequented by lawmakers and lobbyists, Kliman said. The choices are in keeping with his other outreach in the District. He held an inaugural ball for D.C. residents, while his wife has visited a number of nonprofits in the Washington area.

“You go to Ben’s Chili Bowl because it’s an experience and because it’s a part of the unofficial Washington, where people actually live,” Kliman said. “This list reflects a real engagement with the cultural life of the city, the Washington as a place where people live and work and play.”

Interested in following in the president’s footsteps? Below is a list of many of the restaurants at which Obama has eaten during his presidency. Where possible, we’ve included a list of the dishes he ordered.

Ben’s Chili Bowl
On Jan. 10, 2009, Obama visited this 52-year-old D.C. establishment, famous for its chili half-smokes and laid-back atmosphere, with then-D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. He ordered a chili half-smoke and cheese fries.

Rubio, Nelson Offices Receive Suspicious Mail

The Jacksonville offices of Florida Sens. Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R) received suspicious packages containing a white, powdery substance early this week.

Nelson’s office was evacuated Monday and Rubio’s on Tuesday after staff opened a package containing a white, powdery substance accompanying a threatening letter.

Fourth of July Festivities Across the District

The National Mall might offer an iconic backdrop for the Fourth of July fireworks display, but it’s hard to be patriotic when you’re surrounded by thousands of people vying for a comfortable spot to watch. 

And although Metro is offering off-peak fares all day for the holiday, the Smithsonian station will be closed until the fireworks end, cutting off the most convenient public transit route to the Mall.

Flags Flying High in July

They’re separate holidays, but July Fourth might as well be the same as Flag Day.

Flags blanket the District on July Fourth, flying from rooftops, cars and the waving hands of children atop their parents’ shoulders. At the heart of the city, two large flags fly from the top of the Capitol. 

Capitol-Area Bars, Eateries See the Sign

Even the most decisive groups of friends can have trouble making plans for a Friday night.

But for Gallaudet University alumnus Robert Sirvage, who is deaf, getting a few drinks with friends is an especially complicated task — one that some local bars are trying to make easier.