Health secretary: new healthcare plan is ‘a work in progress’ – video

Health and human services secretary Tom Price spoke to reporters at the White House press briefing on Tuesday, touting the new Republican healthcare legislation overhauling the nation’s existing healthcare law. Price said the new plan is ‘about patients, not about money’. Price added that the proposed legislation is ‘a work in progress’ as it heads to the Senate for voting

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Rep. Jason Chaffetz Is Wrong. A $700 iPhone Can’t Cover Your Health Insurance.

Utah Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz said in a CNN interview on Tuesday morning that low-income Americans will be able to afford health insurance under a Republican plan to replace Obamacare — as long as they don’t spend so much on things like iPhones.

The comparison is ridiculous and callous; smart phones are much cheaper than health care, and both can be a necessity, not a luxury, in modern life.

“You know what, Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice,” he said. “And so maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.”

While iPhones are among the priciest smartphones, they don’t come anywhere close to the cost of health insurance. Even the newest iPhone, off-contract, will cost someone around $700. The online health insurance dealer eHealth estimates that the average individual premium is currently about $393 a month — which means the cost of the brand new iPhone will on average net you less than two months worth of health insurance premiums.

And that’s assuming you don’t get sick. Especially with high-deductible plans, the cost of co-pays and deductibles can quickly become astronomical.

Unfortunately, the refrain that if the poor can afford basic consumer goods then they should be able to afford necessities is common among right-wing ideologues in the United States.

For example, the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that provides the basis of much of intellectual conservatism in the United States, put out a report in 2011 noting that the “typical poor household, as defined by the government, has a car and air conditioning, two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR.”  It used these data points to conclude that  “government surveys show that most of the persons whom the government defines as ‘in poverty’ are not poor in any ordinary sense of the term.”

This ignores a fundamental reality of the modern age: consumer electronics like televisions have dramatically declined in price over the past few decades, becoming highly affordable, even as basic necessities like health care, child care and housing have grown much more expensive.

Economist Mark Perry illustrated this divergence in price between necessities and products that were once luxuries:

The cell phone example Chaffetz used is particularly problematic because it ignores how important owning a smartphone can be to Americans who don’t otherwise have access to the internet.

For some Americans, a smart phone is a necessity to apply for jobs or pay bills. Pew Research Center data from 2014 found that 13 percent of Americans with incomes under $30,000 were “smartphone-dependent” — meaning their smartphone was their primary device to access the internet — as opposed to just 1 percent of people whose household income was over $75,000.

As for Chaffetz, my colleague Lee Fang pointed out that his Political Action Committee (PAC) pays the phone bill for his campaign, which totals over $300 a month to Verizon Wireless, and spent $738 at an Apple store.

Top photo: Chaffetz speaking to reporters after leaving a meeting on Capitol Hill on Feb. 14, 2017.

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CIA Has an “Impressive List” of Ways to Hack Into Your Smartphone, WikiLeaks Files Indicate

A concerted effort by the CIA produced a library of software attacks to crack into Android smartphones and Apple iPhones, including some that could take full control of the devices, according to documents in a trove of files released by WikiLeaks Tuesday.

The attacks allow for varying levels of access — many powerful enough to allow the attacker to remotely take over the “kernel,” the heart of the operating system that controls the operation of the phone, or at least to have so-called “root” access, meaning extensive control over files and software processes on a device. These types of techniques would give access to information like geolocation, communications, contacts, and more. They would most likely be useful for targeted hacking, rather than mass surveillance. Indeed, one document describes a process by which a specific unit within the CIA “develops software exploits and implants for high priority target cellphones for intelligence collection.”

The WikiLeaks documents also include detailed charts concerning specific attacks the CIA can apparently perform on different types of cellphones and operating systems, including recent versions of iOS and Android — in addition to attacks the CIA has borrowed from other, public sources of malware. Some of the exploits, in addition to those purportedly developed by the CIA, were discovered and released by cybersecurity companies, hacker groups, and independent researchers, and purchased, downloaded, or otherwise acquired by the CIA, in some cases through other members of the intelligence community, including the FBI, NSA, and the NSA’s British counterpart GCHQ , the documents indicate.

One borrowed attack, Shamoon, is a notorious computer virus capable of stealing data and then completely destroying hardware. Persistence, a tool found by the CIA, allows the agency control over the device whenever it boots up again. Another acquired attack, SwampMonkey, allows CIA to get root privileges on undisclosed Android devices.

“This is a very impressive list,” tweeted former GCHQ analyst Matt Tait, noting that at least some of the attacks appeared to still be viable.

Matt Green, cryptographer at Johns Hopkins University, agreed the leak was “impressive,” but concluded there weren’t many “technically surprising” hacks. This lack of originality may have stemmed from a desire on the part of the agency to avoid detection, judging from one document contained in the trove, in which apparent CIA personnel discuss an NSA hacking toolkit known as Equation Group and its public exposure. It was also previously known that the CIA was targeting smartphones; drawing on top-secret documents, The Intercept in 2015 reported on an agency campaign to crack into the iPhone and other Apple products.

In addition to the CIA’s efforts, an FBI hacking division, the Remote Operations Unit, has also been working to discover exploits in iPhones, one of the WikiLeaks documents, the iOS hacking chart, indicates. Last February, while investigating the perpetrator of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, the FBI attempted argued in court that Apple was obligated to give the FBI access to its phones by producing a weakened version of the device’s operating system. If the WikiLeaks documents are authentic, it would appear FBI and other elements of the intelligence community are already deeply involved in discovering their own way into iPhones. The compromise of the documents also calls into question government assurances in the San Bernardino case that any exploit developed by Apple to allow the FBI access to the killer’s phone would never be exposed to criminals or nation states.

The CIA and FBI hacking revelations originate with a trove of more than 8,000 documents released by WikiLeaks, which said the files originated from a CIA network and date from 2013 to 2016. The CIA declined to comment on the documents, which also disclose techniques the CIA allegedly developed to turn so-called smart televisions into listening devices. Apple did not respond to a request for comment, and Google declined to comment, though indicated it was actively investigating the revelations.

It’s unclear who might have given WikiLeaks access to the documents; a summary of the material hosted on the site implies it came from a whistleblower who “wishes to initiate a public debate about the security, creation, use, proliferation and democratic control of cyberweapons.” But the leaker could also be an outsider, including one employed by a foreign power.

“This could be as much about Russia as CIA or WikiLeaks,” tweeted Jason Healey, Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs “A continuation of teardown of U.S. government.”

German iOS security researcher Stefan Esser, according to a chart in the file database, developed an iOS exploit named “Ironic,” which gives access to the operating system kernel — though the hack “died” when iPhones were updated to iOS8, the chart appears to indicate. Esser, in an email to The Intercept, said he is not one to comb through classified documents or comment on them — but noted CIA had apparently “used public research of mine about a vulnerability that Apple required four attempts at fixing” in iOS. Esser’s bug was already public when CIA included it in its database. He also noted that a training slide he presented during a security conference in 2015 was also included in the dump.

WikiLeaks discussed, without referring to any specific document, access levels CIA has to encrypted applications, including popular Open Whisper Systems’ application Signal — though the documents do not indicate CIA has broken the app’s end-to-end encryption. Rather, it suggests the CIA can “bypass” the encryption by hacking into the phone itself, then reading everything on it, including data stored within any app — including messages from Telegram, WhatsApp, and other secure messaging apps. If a phone itself is compromised, there’s little to be done to prevent an attacker from accessing what’s on it.

Some of the attacks are what are known as “zero days” — exploitation paths hackers can use that vendors are completely unaware of, giving the vendors no time — zero days — to fix their products. WikiLeaks said the documents indicate the CIA has violated commitments made by the Obama administration to disclose serious software vulnerabilities to vendors to improve the security of their products. The administration developed a system called the Vulnerabilities Equities Process to allow various government entities to help determine when it’s better for national security to disclose unpatched vulnerabilities and when it’s better to take advantage of them to hunt targets.

At least some civil liberties advocates agree with the WikiLeaks assessment. “Access Now condemns the stockpiling of vulnerabilities, calls for limits on government hacking and protections for human rights, and urges immediate reforms to the Vulnerabilities Equities Process,” Nathan White, senior legislative manager for digital rights group Access Now, wrote in response to the new leak in a press release.

The post CIA Has an “Impressive List” of Ways to Hack Into Your Smartphone, WikiLeaks Files Indicate appeared first on The Intercept.

GOP Lawmaker Shaping Obamacare Repeal to Address Delighted Insurance Lobbyists

The powerful trade group that lobbies on behalf of the health insurance industry, America’s Health Insurance Plans, has much to celebrate as it holds its national health policy conference at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington this week.

Among other changes long sought by the industry, the draft Republican proposal for a health care overhaul released on Monday would allow insurers to charge older American more for their premiums and rewrite tax law to make it easier for insurance firms to pay executives even higher pay.

Not surprisingly, one of the AHIP conference’s keynote speakers on Thursday will be Congressman Kevin Brady, the Texas Republican who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, which starts marking up the bill on Wednesday morning.

The trade group represents the largest health insurance companies in America, including Cigna, Humana, Kaiser, Blue Shield of California, and Anthem.

Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, is scheduled to appear before America’s Health Insurance Plans

The new Republican legislation, called the American Health Care Act, includes sweeping changes sought by health insurance companies.

The proposal, for instance, shifts the age ratio for premiums, allowing insurance companies to charge older Americans up to five times as much as young people. The AARP, in a letter to legislators, notes that the new 5:1 ratio could cost the average 64-year-old on a silver plan an additional $2,100 per year. Under the Affordable Care Act, the premium cap was 3:1.

AHIP specifically recommended a move to the 5:1 ratio.

The GOP legislation would replace Obamacare’s individual mandate — the requirement that all Americans purchase health insurance — with an idea that similarly penalizes people who go without health coverage. But under the Republican legislation, the penalty will be paid to insurance companies instead of the federal government. Insurers, under the bill, are granted the ability to require a premium surcharge of 30 percent for any individual who loses coverage for a period of at least two months.

The proposal also includes a direct handout to the chief executives of health insurance companies. The Affordable Care Act contained a provision that limited health insurance firms to deducting only $500,000 in taxes of the pay of executives and other employees. The provision was designed to rein in out-of-control health insurance executive compensation, and to encourage insurance firms to pay for health care instead of bonuses for company leadership.

Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance company executives had little incentive not to steer company revenue to executive leadership. UnitedHealth Group chief executive Stephen Hemsley received $109 million in pay in 2009 alone.

The Republican health legislation repeals the Affordable Care Act’s cap. “The Republican plan calls for allowing insurers to write off as a business expense the entire amount of their executives’ salaries on their taxes, and not just the first $500,000, as is the case now under the Affordable Care Act,” CNBC reported. Taking away the limit on corporate pay tax deductions will not only encourage higher executive pay, but will mean companies will pay way less in taxes. The Institute for Policy Studies estimated that the cap generated $72 million in additional revenue in 2014.

AHIP has written to Congress to complain about the cap on deducting executive compensation. The Ways and Means Committee draft of the Republican health overhaul provides for the elimination of the cap on the first page of the bill.

Finally, the legislation creates a backhanded financial giveaway to health insurance companies by nearly doubling the amount individuals and families may save in a tax-free health savings accounts — an idea originally designed by insurance companies as a source of additional income. The accounts are used to pay for out-of-pocket expenses, such as deductibles. But as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik has explained, HSAs primarily benefit wealthy individuals, by shielding their income from taxation, while the accounts themselves are often managed by insurance companies, allowing them to collect revenue by charging fees.

The health insurance lobby has long played a pivotal role in American health care. In 1993, AHIP’s predecessor, the Health Insurance Association of America, helped sink President Bill Clinton’s health reform proposal through a national advertising campaign called “Harry and Louise.”

In 2009, then-AHIP president Karen Ignagni promised President Barack Obama that her group would not repeat its behavior from the early ’90s, telling an audience at the White House that her industry would work towards a positive solution. “You have our commitment to play, to contribute and to help pass health care reform this year,” Ignagni declared.

But the pledge was quietly broken. While Democrats debated the Affordable Care Act, AHIP secretly funneled at least $86.2 million to a third-party business group to air relentless negative campaign commercials and lobby against the plan. Inadvertent filings later revealed that insurance company Aetna also provided at least $7 million in covert funds to groups airing anti-health reform ads.

AHIP, meanwhile, has consistently enjoyed friendly relations with Capitol Hill.

New York Rep. Joe Crowley, the former chair of the conservative New Democrat Coalition and current chair of the House Democratic caucus, is slated to speak before AHIP on Wednesday. AHIP’s political action committee sponsored a $1,000 per person fundraiser for House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is currently working to win over GOP support for the draft bill, shortly after the inauguration. AHIP’s largest disclosed donation in 2017 has gone to Rep. Kevin Brady, the chairman helping to lead the Republican health repeal effort this week.

Top photo: House Speaker Paul Ryan seated to the left of Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady.

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Dakota Access pipeline could open next week after activists face final court loss

Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux lose argument to prevent pipe from being laid under a stretch of the Missouri river, the last piece of construction

A federal judge declined Tuesday to temporarily stop construction of the final section of the disputed Dakota Access pipeline, clearing the way for oil to flow as soon as next week.

Related: Private investor divests $34.8m from firms tied to Dakota Access pipeline

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MLS players would prefer Ibrahimovic to Messi and say Portland have best fans

  • Annual ESPN players’ poll reveals Swede is top designated player pick
  • Portland fans considered league’s best, ahead of Seattle Sounders
  • ‘The discrepancy between DPs and minimum salary guys in insane’

Today’s MLS players believe Portland Timbers have the best fans, think regular salaries are much too low, and would love to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic join the league – more so than Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

Related: What to watch in MLS this season: 22 teams, top talent and Tata Martino

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Republican healthcare plan battered by left and right: ‘Dumpster fire of a bill’

Rightwing groups decry American Health Care Act as ‘ObamaCare Lite’ while Democrats warn health reform could consume most of Trump’s first term

The Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act hit a wall of fierce conservative opposition on Tuesday, less than a day after it was introduced.

The American Health Care Act is already being denounced by many influential conservative groups and is meeting widespread skepticism among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

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WikiLeaks Dump Shows CIA Could Turn Smart TVs into Listening Devices

It’s difficult to buy a new TV that doesn’t come with a suite of (generally mediocre) “smart” software, giving your home theater some of the functions typically found in phones and tablets. But bringing these extra features into your living room means bringing a microphone, too — a fact the CIA is exploiting, according to a new trove of documents released today by WikiLeaks.

According to documents inside the cache, a CIA program named “Weeping Angel” provided the agency’s hackers with access to Samsung Smart TVs, allowing a television’s built-in voice control microphone to be remotely enabled while keeping the appearance that the TV itself was switched off, called “Fake-Off mode.” Although the display would be switched off, and LED indicator lights would be suppressed, the hardware inside the television would continue to operate, unbeknownst to the owner. The method, co-developed with British intelligence, required implanting a given TV with malware—it’s unclear if this attack could be executed remotely, but the documentation includes reference to in-person infection via a tainted USB drive. Once the malware was inside the TV, it could relay recorded audio data to a third party (presumably a server controlled by the CIA) through the included network connection.

WikiLeaks said its cache included more than 8,000 documents originating from within the CIA and came via a source, who the group did not identify, who was concerned that the agency’s “hacking capabilities exceed its mandated powers,” and who wanted to “initiate a public debate” about the proliferation of cyberweapons. WikiLeaks said the documents also showed extensive hacking of smartphones, including Apple’s iPhones; a large library of allegedly serious computer attacks that were not reported to tech companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft; malware from hacker groups and other nation-states, including, WikiLeaks said, Russia, that could be used to hide the agency’s involvement in cyberattacks; and the growth of a substantial hacking division within the CIA, known as the Center for Cyber Intelligence, bringing the agency further into the sort of cyberwarfare traditionally practiced by its rival the National Security Agency.

The smart TV breach is just the latest example of a security problem emerging from the so-called “Internet of Things,” the increasingly large catalog of consumer products that include (or require) an internet connection for contrived “smart” functionality. Last year, the Guardian reported that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told the Senate that breaching smart devices was a priority for American spies: “In the future, intelligence services might use the [internet of things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Security and cryptography researcher Kenneth White told The Intercept that smart TVs are “historically a pretty easy target” and “a pretty great attack platform,” given that TVs are typically located in a living room or bedroom.” White added that “there is zero chance the [CIA has] only targeted Samsung. It’s just too easy to mod other embedded OSes” found in the smart TVs sold by every other manufacturer.

This new WikiLeaks dump contains no apparent information about who exactly was targeted by Weeping Angel, or when. It’s also unclear how many models of Samsung TVs were vulnerable to Weeping Angel — the CIA documents published by WikiLeaks only mention one model, the F8000 (albeit a very popular and well-reviewed model: Engadget described it as “the best smart TV system you’ll find anywhere.”) After privacy concerns about Samsung’s TV voice recognition feature spread in 2015, the company released an FAQ meant to soothe worried consumers. Addressing the question of “How do I know it’s listening or not?,” Samsung assured users that “If the TV’s voice recognition feature is turned on for a command, an icon of a microphone will appear on the screen,” but “if no icon appears on the screen, the voice recognition feature is off.”

This assurance about displayed icons is of course worth nothing if the CIA has hijacked the TV. What Samsung seems to have taken for granted was that the company, and its customers, could fully control the operation of its televisions. As the CIA’s Fake-Off exploit shows, the company’s assurances to consumers that a TV’s voice recognition controls would operate in a transparent manner do not hold true once spies and (potentially other hackers) get involved.

Samsung did not immediately return a request for comment. A CIA spokesperson replied “We do not comment on the authenticity or content of purported intelligence documents.”

Top photo: On Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, attendees watch a presentation at the Samsung booth at the International CES, in Las Vegas.

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