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Sean Spicer targets his staff in White House leak probe, report claims

After information from a meeting with his own staffers leaked to the media, Press Secretary Sean Spicer summoned them to a meeting with White House attorneys and forced them to turn over every digital device in their possession for a “phone check," Politico reported Sunday.

The search reportedly included any devices staffers had with them, including personal and government devices. Spicer warned staffers that using encrypted messaging apps like Signal, Whisper, Wickr and Confide were violations of the Federal Records Act, according to the report.

>> Read more trending news

The account, ironically, is a leak itself. It comes from several anonymous sources and is the latest in a stream of leaks from within President Donald Trump's administration that paint an anonymously sourced, unflattering picture of the Trump White House.

In the face of stories about his team and their purported relationship to Russia, Trump has decried the leaks as illegal and lashed out at news outlets that have been most eager to publish leaks from the administration and intelligence community.

Back at the meeting, after searching the devices of everyone present, Spicer allegedly warned staffers that more consequences would come from leaking information about that meeting and the phone check.

Read more here.

Fla. homeowner uses martial arts training to protect home from accused burglar

A Florida homeowner was able to protect his home and his belongings thanks his martial arts training.

Brian Burch told WBBH that he used Brazilian jiujitsu to subdue and hold Josue Ortiz until police could respond.

Burch also said he had wrestled before and had trained in jiujitsu for more than two years.

>> Read more trending news  

He said that Ortiz hand entered his open garage and was holding Burch's jackhammer and airgun cases when he confronted Ortiz.

Burch said that Ortiz told him that he was sent by Ortiz's boss to pick up the tools. When questioned again, Burch said Ortiz tried to run and that's when he jumped into action. 

A neighbor saw what was going on and called police.

Ortiz had a broken nose after the fight. 

Once police arrived, they discovered several of Burch's tools inside Ortiz's car, WBBH reported.

Ortiz was sent to the Lee County Jail, charged with burglary and grand theft. He was released Sunday after posting bond, according to the Lee County Sheriff's department.

NBC-2.com WBBH News for Fort Myers, Cape Coral & Naples, Florida

7 things to know now: Oscar mix-up; Mardi Gras crash; new DNC chair; Bill Paxton dies

Here's a roundup of news trending across the nation and world today.

What to know now:

1. Wrong Oscar announced: Actors Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway apparently took the wrong envelope with them onstage when they announced the winner of the Oscar for best picture at Sunday’s Academy Awards ceremony. Beatty seemed to realize something was wrong and hesitated before Dunaway announced the winner as “La La Land.” Midway through the acceptance speech by “La La Land” producers, someone ran onstage to point out that it was actually “Moonlight” that won the award. Gasps could be heard in the audience as “Moonlight’s” producers came onstage to claim their prize. Other than that … the show went long, but was relatively uneventful.

2. Mardi Gras crash: A man with a blood-alcohol level nearly three times the legal limit drove his truck into a crowd of New Orleans Mardi Gras parade-goers Saturday, injuring 28 people. Neilson Rizzuto, 25, has been charged with two counts of first-degree vehicular negligence resulting in injury, and one count each of reckless operation and hit-and-run driving. Rizzuto had a blood-alcohol level of .232 percent, according to police, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08 percent in Louisiana. At least 12 people were critically injured in the crash.

3. New wireless plan: AT&T announced Monday that it is adding two new “unlimited” wireless plans to their menu of mobile options. The news comes after Verizon offered an unlimited data plan earlier this month.

4. Nominee withdraws: Philip Bilden, President Trump's nominee for secretary of the Navy, has withdrawn his name from consideration for the job. Bilden said his business interests – he recently retired from a private equity investment management firm – would prevent him from satisfying the Office of Government Ethics requirements, “without undue disruption and materially adverse divestment of my family's private financial interests."

5. New DNC chair: Tom Perez, Labor secretary under President Barack Obama, was elected as the head of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday. Perez won a close race against Rep. Keith Ellison, (D-Minn.), on the second ballot. After the win, Perez asked Ellison to be his deputy chairman. Ellison had been backed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, (D-N.Y.), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.).

And  one more

Actor Bill Paxton who starred in movies such as “Apollo 13,” “Aliens,” and “Twister,” died this weekend following heart surgery. A statement from a family representative read in part, "It is with heavy hearts we share the news that Bill Paxton has passed away due to complications from surgery. A loving husband and father, Bill began his career in Hollywood working on films in the art department and went on to have an illustrious career spanning four decades as a beloved and prolific actor and filmmaker. …” Paxton was 61.

In case you missed it

Here’s how the Academy Award mix-up went down.

Joseph Wapner, 'People's Court' judge, dead at 97

Rest in peace, Judge Joseph Wapner.

According to The Associated Press and TMZ, the fan favorite from “The People’s Court” died Sunday. He was 97 years old.

"The People's Court," which debuted in September 1981, helped open the doors for reality TV, including popular court shows.

>> PHOTOS: Notable deaths in 2017

Wapner entertained audiences with his opinionated personality and heard thousands of cases during his 12-year run, which ended in 1993.

Before he was a TV judge, Wapner was a judge in Los Angeles' municipal and superior courts. 

He was reportedly hospitalized earlier last week for breathing problems, and his condition worsened. He returned to his Los Angeles home on Friday and was under hospice care until he passed away on Sunday.

>> Read more trending news

Wapner was married to his wife, Mickey, for 70 years and had three children.

Drowning In A ‘High-Risk Insurance Pool’ — At $18,000 A Year

Some Republicans looking to scrap the Affordable Care Act say monthly health insurance premiums need to be lower for the individuals who have to buy insurance on their own. One way to do that, GOP leaders say, would be to return to the use of what are called high-risk insurance pools, for people who have health problems.

But critics say even some of the most successful high-risk pools that operated before the advent of Obamacare were very expensive for patients enrolled in the plans, and for the people who subsidized them — which included state taxpayers and people with employer-based health insurance.

Craig Britton of Plymouth, Minn., once had a plan through Minnesota’s high-risk pool. It cost him $18,000 a year in premiums.

Britton was forced to buy the expensive coverage because of a pancreatitis diagnosis. He called the idea that high-risk pools are good for consumers “a lot of baloney.”

“That is catastrophic cost,” Britton said. “You have to have a good living just to pay for insurance.”

The argument in favor of high-risk pools goes like this: Separate the healthy people, who don’t cost very much to insure, from people who have preexisting medical conditions, such as a past serious illness or a chronic condition. Under GOP proposals, this second group, which insurers expect to use more medical care, would be encouraged to buy health insurance through high-risk insurance pools that are subsidized by states and the federal government.

Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan made the case for high-risk pools on public television’s “Charlie Rose” show in January.

“By having taxpayers, I think, step up and focus on, through risk pools, subsidizing care for people with catastrophic illnesses, those losses don’t have to be covered by everybody else [buying insurance], and we stabilize their plans,” Ryan told the TV host.

Minnesota’s newest congressman, Rep. Jason Lewis, a Republican representing Burnsville and Bloomington, recently endorsed high-risk pools on CNN.

“Minnesota had one of the best … high-risk insurance pools in the country,” Lewis said. “And it was undone by the ACA.”

It’s true that the Affordable Care Act banned states’ use of high-risk pools, including the Minnesota Comprehensive Health Association, or MCHA. But that’s because the MCHA was no longer needed, the association’s website explains; the federal health law requires insurers to sell health plans to everybody, regardless of their health status.

Supporters of the MCHA approach tout a return to it as a smart way to bring down the cost of monthly premiums for most healthy people who need to buy insurance on their own. But MCHA had detractors, too.

“It’s not cheap coverage to the individual, and it’s not cheap coverage to the system,” said Stefan Gildemeister, an economist with Minnesota’s health department.

MCHA’s monthly premiums cost policyholders 25 percent more than conventional coverage, Gildemeister pointed out, and that left many people uninsured in Minnesota.

“There were people out there who had a chronic disease or had a preexisting condition who couldn’t get a policy,” Gildemeister said.

And for the MCHA, even the higher premiums fell far short of covering the full cost of care for the roughly 25,000 people who were insured by the program. It needed more than $173 million in subsidies in its final year of normal operation.

That money came from fees collected from private insurance plans — which essentially shifted a big chunk of the cost of insuring people in the MCHA program to people who get their health insurance through work.

Gildemeister ran the numbers on what a return to MCHA would cost. Annual high-risk pool coverage for a 40-year-old would cost more than $15,000 a year, he says. The policyholder would pay about $6,000 of that, and subsidies would cover the more than $9,000 remaining.

University of Minnesota health policy professor Lynn Blewett said there is a better alternative than a return to high-risk pools. It’s called “reinsurance.” In that approach, insurers pay into a pool that the federal government administers, using the funds to compensate health plans that incur unexpectedly high medical costs. It’s basically an insurance program for insurers.

The big question is whether lawmakers will balk at the cost of keeping premiums down for consumers — whatever the approach, Blewett said.

“The rub is, where that funding is going to come from?” she said. “And is the federal government or the state government willing to put up the funding needed to make some of these fixes?”

The national plan Ryan has proposed would subsidize high-risk pools with $25 billion of federal money over 10 years. The nonpartisan Commonwealth Fund estimates the approach could cost U.S. taxpayers much more than that — almost $178 billion a year.

Researchers at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company say reinsurance would likely cost about a third of what the high-risk pool option would.

This story is part of NPR’s reporting partnership with Minnesota Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

To Pay Or Not To Pay – That Is The Question

K.A. Curtis gave up her career in the nonprofit world in 2008 to care for her ailing parents in Fresno, Calif., which also meant giving up her income.

She wasn’t able to afford health insurance as a result, and for each tax year since 2014, Curtis has applied for — and received — an exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirement and the related tax penalty, she says.

This year, given President Donald Trump’s promise to repeal the ACA, along with his executive order urging federal officials to weaken parts of the law, Curtis began to wonder whether she’d even have to apply for an exemption for her 2016 taxes.

She also heard that the IRS recently flip-flopped on its previous decision to reject 2016 tax returns that don’t include the taxpayer’s health coverage status.

“I thought, ‘Maybe I won’t have to apply for the exemption again,’” says Curtis, 59. “The public debate about the law makes it confusing.”

Indeed, there’s widespread confusion among consumers about the status of Obamacare, and because of that, they are uncertain how to handle Obamacare-related tax requirements.

Should you still submit your 1095 tax forms that show when you were covered — or, if you purchased a plan from an exchange, the amount of tax credits you received? Should you apply for an exemption from the Obamacare coverage requirement?

If you were uninsured in 2016 and don’t qualify for an exemption, should you pay the Obamacare tax penalty?

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths floating around,” says Lawrence Pon, a certified public accountant (CPA) in Redwood City. “Some of my clients ask me, ‘Does the law still exist?’”

It sure does.

As a result, California tax experts have some relatively simple advice for confused taxpayers.

“Until Obamacare is no longer the law of the land, we don’t have much choice other than to continue under the current rules and regulations,” says Janet Krochman, a CPA in Costa Mesa.

Death, Taxes And Obamacare

This year’s tax filing deadline is April 18.

And as many of you learned in the past few years, Obamacare and taxes are inextricably linked.

As part of filing your tax return, you need to prove you had health insurance, or pay a penalty, unless you qualify for one of the law’s exemptions.

If you bought coverage through a health insurance exchange such as Covered California and received federal tax credits, which are based on an estimate of your income, you must report whether your actual income varied from your estimate. Since most of you received tax credits in advance, if there’s a difference you may either owe or be owed money.

Many tax preparers say they’d rather not deal with the law’s arcane and complex requirements. But every single one I spoke with says they will continue doing so as long as former President Barack Obama’s health law exists.

“I tell everybody I want all of their forms. We’re going to document everything,” says Rebecca Neilson, a registered tax preparer in Sheridan, about 40 miles northeast of Sacramento. “I’m not going to change what I’m doing because the law might get changed.”

However, a recent IRS switch has fueled hopes among some consumers that the agency won’t enforce the Obamacare tax penalty for 2016.

On 1040 tax forms, taxpayers must check a box attesting that they had health care coverage, or enter their penalty amount if they didn’t.

For the first two tax years that Obamacare was in effect, the IRS accepted tax returns that didn’t include this information but often followed up with taxpayers to get it. For 2015, about 4.3 million taxpayers did not check the box, claim an exemption from coverage or pay a penalty, according to the IRS.

The IRS had said it would start rejecting those forms outright for the 2016 tax year — until Trump signed his executive order.

Citing the order, the agency now says it will continue to process tax forms that don’t include a taxpayer’s health coverage status. “This is similar to how we handled this in previous years,” says an IRS statement.

At the same time, the agency says it will continue to enforce the health law and may follow up with taxpayers who withhold their coverage information.

“Legislative provisions of the ACA law are still in force until changed by the Congress, and taxpayers remain required to follow the law and pay what they may owe,” the IRS statement says.

Mixed Signals

Andrew Porter, a CPA in Contra Costa County, believes that the agency “has just added to the confusion” with this change but that taxpayers shouldn’t be lulled into complacency.

“They have to enforce the law,” he says. “It’s exactly the same as last year.”

Though Porter doesn’t advise it, if you choose not to report your coverage on your tax return, he urges you to make sure you have your 1095 form so you have proof of coverage.

“If the IRS does come calling and says you owe this penalty, producing that document may be very useful,” he says.

Michael Eisenberg, a CPA in Encino, acknowledges that there may be consumers who owe a penalty and are hoping that a repeal in the coming months would get them off the hook.

They could request a tax-filing extension, allowing them to submit tax forms to the IRS in October, he says.

But that’s not a sure thing and would require any change in the law to be retroactive to the 2016 tax year, he says. If the penalty is not forgiven, they would have to pay it, plus interest.

“Maybe there will be clarity by October, maybe there won’t be,” Eisenberg says. “You can take your chances, but what’s the likelihood the law would be repealed retroactively? I don’t think it’s that great.”

Krochman, the Costa Mesa CPA, has a few clients who owed the penalty in previous years but haven’t paid it.

“They’re kicking the can down the road in the hopes there will be retroactive removal of the penalty once the law is repealed or replaced,” she says. “What happens down that road, we don’t know.”

Given the uncertainty, my biggest piece of advice is, and always has been, to consult with a tax professional. If you can’t afford it, multiple programs offer free tax help, including the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, run by the IRS (www.irs.gov/VITA) and the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program (www.aarp.org/findtaxhelp).

In the face of the confusion, Curtis, of Fresno, erred on the side of caution.

“I ended up deciding this year to go ahead and file the exemption paperwork and be safer than sorry,” she says. “It is the law, and we’re stuck navigating our way through it, as difficult as it may be.”

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Liberal Vermont Tests The Waters On GOP Health Care Overhaul

Tiny — and very blue — Vermont could be at the leading edge of the health reforms envisioned by the Trump administration and a Republican Congress.

The Green Mountain State, population around 626,000, got a broad waiver last October from the federal government to redesign how its health care is delivered and paid for. The statewide experiment aims to test new payment systems, prevent unnecessary treatments, constrain overall growth in the cost of services and drugs, and address public health problems such as opioid abuse.

The six-year initiative — an outgrowth of a failed attempt by Vermont a few years ago to adopt a single-payer plan for all residents — could eventually encompass almost all of its 16 hospitals, 1,933 doctors and 70 percent of its population, including workers insured through their jobs and people covered under Medicare and Medicaid.

The Obama administration approved the experiment, but it fits the Republican mold for one way the Affordable Care Act could be replaced or significantly modified. The Trump administration and lawmakers in Congress have signaled that they want to allow states more flexibility to test ways to do what Vermont is doing — possibly even in the short-term before Republicans come to an agreement about the future of the ACA.

Two Republican senators, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Susan Collins of Maine, introduced legislation in January that would permit individual states to design their own health reforms and keep provisions of the health law intact.

Coincidentally, the ACA contains a provision that allows states to launch such experiments starting this year, as long as they meet the ACA’s overall goals for coverage expansions and consumer protections. One possible scenario, then, is that the Trump administration and Congress would agree to retain a version of that provision — modified to make it easier for states to experiment, experts say.

“It’s a very reasonable approach, especially if it looks as if Congress can’t agree on an immediate replacement plan,” said Stuart Butler, a senior fellow in economics and health policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. “States have long been the laboratories for social change and policy reform, and I think many governors, Republican and Democrat, would welcome this opportunity.”

Chris Jennings, a longtime health policy adviser to Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, said Democratic states also may be amenable. “There’s a long way to go on this and there are downsides — for example, what would state legislatures actually do — but it looks like it will be a meaningful debate.”

‘We Want To Simplify How Things Work’

Al Gobeille, Vermont’s secretary of Human Services and a Republican serving under newly elected Republican Gov. Phil Scott, said the hope is that the Trump administration will preserve the state’s initiative.

“We are doing what [the Republicans] seem to be talking about,” said Gobeille, who owns a restaurant company in the state. “We want to simplify how things work, with both coverage and access to care. We want to enhance competition and we want to lower cost growth even as we improve quality.”

Scott and Gobeille this month announced the formal launch of the program’s pilot phase. In 2017, 30,000 of the state’s roughly 190,000 Medicaid patients will get care, under a set budget, through an organization called OneCare Vermont. OneCare’s network of hospitals and doctors already provide care to about 100,000 Vermonters.

The state will give OneCare $93 million, in monthly payments, for the care of the 30,000 Medicaid patients — $3,100 per person. If OneCare spends more than $93 million, the company will absorb the loss. If OneCare spends less than that amount, the company and the state share the savings.

“This tests the concept of a global budget and streamlined payment which incentivizes better care,” says Todd Moore, OneCare’s CEO. “We may be a small state but we are trying a big thing. If it works, many states are likely to stand up and take notice.”

Moore added that patients will be informed they are part of the program and can seek redress with the state’s Department of Human Services if they feel their care is stinted in any way.

In announcing the pilot program, Scott said that if it’s successful the experiment will be expanded in 2018 and beyond to encompass the rest of the Medicaid population, Medicare beneficiaries and people who have insurance through private employers and on their own, including through Vermont Health Connect, the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange. Additional hospitals, doctors and other providers would become involved, likely under the umbrella of OneCare Vermont.

Medicaid covers almost 30 percent of Vermont residents, Medicare covers 21 percent, and the rest have either private insurance, coverage through the VA or Tricare (military) or are uninsured. About 4 percent of Vermonters were uninsured in 2015, one of the lowest rates in the nation.

Under the terms of Vermont’s contract with the Obama administration, the target for the state’s maximum overall cost increase in health spending would be 3.5 percent per year from 2018 to 2022 — that’s two percentage points lower than the annual 5.6 percent average increase in health care spending nationally the federal government projects between this year and 2025.

Success or failure will also be assessed based on population health and quality of care measures. For example, the plan calls for a reduction of substance abuse deaths by at least 10 percent by 2022. Likewise, the plan sets a target for not more than a 1 percent rise statewide in the number of people with chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The allowance for the slight increase takes account of the state’s aging population.

The number of people with ready access to a primary care physician will also be evaluated, with a target of 90 percent of residents by 2022.

A Shift From ‘Fee For Service’

To make all this work, almost every doctor and hospital would have to join OneCare Vermont or create their own accountable care organizations, or ACOs. In these organizations, providers agree to work together to improve and coordinate care and reduce spending under a set budget.

ACOs are also set up to allow payers to gradually shift to global per-patient payment, or other simplified forms of payment, and abandon traditional “fee-for-service” payment. Fee-for-service payment in medicine is widely viewed as providing incentives for excessive and wasteful care, as well as fraudulent billing. Both the Affordable Care Act and a 2015 law setting up an incentive-payment system in Medicare for doctors take major steps to test whether ACOs and alternative payment systems improve the efficiency and quality of care.

Vermont’s initiative builds on those efforts.

Some in Vermont are skeptical the experiment will work well, however. Paul Reiss is a family doctor in Williston and chief medical officer for HealthFirst, Vermont’s largest independent practice association. HealthFirst represents (but does not own or operate) 66 doctor groups with 250 doctors, physician assistants and nurses. Reiss said the state’s largest hospital system — the University of Vermont Medical Center — dominates health care in parts of state.

“We are fearful that much of a restricted pot of money will still go mostly to that company, baking in the inefficiencies of a bloated hospital budget, and not be deployed equitably to the front lines of patient care across the state,” Reiss said.

The University of Vermont Medical Center vigorously denied that its budget was bloated. Moore, who is affiliated with the hospital as well as being OneCare Vermont’s CEO, said: “Statewide data do not confirm those assertions. The medical center is, in fact, a strong leader in ushering in a value-based system for Vermont.”

Scott, in announcing the launch of the pilot phase this month, said if it does not work this year, the state would consider terminating the experiment early.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

"Game of Thrones" Actor Dead At 36

"Game of Thrones" Actor Dead At 36

Oscars 2017: Social media reacts to 'Moonlight,' 'La La Land' gaffe

Oops.

The 89th annual Academy Awards went out with a bang – an epic mixup over which film took the Oscar for best picture.

>> 'Moonlight' wins Best Picture after 'La La Land' mistakenly announced

>> Complete list of winners

>> PHOTOS: 2017 Oscars red carpet arrivals

>> PHOTOS: 2017 Oscars show

After Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, who were apparently given the wrong winner's card, announced that "La La Land" had won the award, producer Jordan Horowitz made a shocking revelation onstage as the filmmakers were giving their thank-yous: "Moonlight" was the real victor.

Celebrities and fans immediately took to social media to share their reactions. 

>> Click here or scroll down to see what they had to say

<iframe src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/oscars-2017-social-media-reacts-to-moonlight-la-la/embed?header=none&amp;border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe> <script src="//storify.com/cmgnationalnews/oscars-2017-social-media-reacts-to-moonlight-la-la.js?header=none&amp;border=false"></script> [View the story "Oscars 2017: Social media reacts to 'Moonlight'/'La La Land' gaffe" on Storify]

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