Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado Before Their Meeting

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

San Jose, Costa Rica

Casa Presidencial

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  Thanks again, Mr. Secretary, for meeting in Costa Rica and thanks also to your team.  I’m really delighted in having you in our country.  I believe I won’t be introducing because you have been here for a while (inaudible) already had the introductions.  But just to say first that, as Costa Ricans, we are very happy to receive your visit to reinforce our partnership as democracies, as partners in values, and that we look forward not only to continue the good work that’s done the last decades since we have had a diplomatic relation but to take it to the next level, because there’s so much things we can do together – so much we can do for bilateral partnership for the region in which we want to be solutions-oriented and want to be part of the solution, and also in the multilateral forums, because we also believe that as a country with no army, we fully believe in diplomacy.  We believe – indeed, as you said earlier, Mr. Secretary – in a rules-based order.  We believe in that.

So before giving it to you, Secretary, I just want to remind my team that the agenda – my suggestion is to keep it the most concrete, pointing out the main accomplishments, but also pointing out what are the main challenges so we can be very concrete on what the task force of the future should address bilaterally.

So once again, Secretary, welcome.  Please.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Mr. President, it is a special pleasure to be here, and I have to tell you this is my – as you know, my first opportunity to travel to – in our own hemisphere, travel to Central America.  It’s no accident that we’re here, and we’re here first.  It’s, I think, evidence of what you’ve already talked about as well.  We have a remarkably strong partnership that is based on a foundation of shared values and shared perspective.  And as we were discussing – by the way, the president and I had a wonderful conversation in which I think we basically covered the entire agenda, so – (laughter) – (inaudible) go out and have some coffee or a drink maybe.

But in all seriousness, it is evidence of the fact that on so many different levels we’re working closely together, whether it’s on a bilateral basis, whether it’s multilateral, including the meeting that we’re hosting of the SICA countries in a couple of hours from now.  And I think if we’re looking at the – one of the great challenges of our time, whether it’s climate, whether it’s dealing with the challenges of migration, whether it’s building greater economic opportunities, whether it’s doing that on the basis of democratic principles and values, our countries are united.  And to your point, Mr. President, I think we have tremendous opportunities going forward to strengthen even more that partnership.  And we, the United States – President Biden places great value on this partnership.  As we were saying, especially in challenging, turbulent times, the most important thing is to have strong friendships, strong partnerships (inaudible).

We spent some time as well talking about COVID and the work that we’re going to do – and to, as we say, build back even better.  And I’m confident that especially in the case of Costa Rica with so – with maybe the most important resource of all, the human resources of this country, the future has tremendous possibility.  We want to be part of that, working closely with you.

So thank you so much for your hospitality and for receiving us.

PRESIDENT ALVARADO:  No, thank you.  Thank you very much.

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    July 26, 2020, marked the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  This landmark civil rights law protects access and opportunity for people with disabilities across community life, including employment.
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  • Private Health Coverage: Results of Covert Testing for Selected Offerings
    In U.S GAO News
    GAO performed 31 covert tests to selected sales representatives and stated that we had pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, and we requested coverage for these conditions to see if the sales representative directed GAO's undercover agents to a comprehensive Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)-compliant plan, or a PPACA-exempt plan that does not cover what we requested. As part of these tests, GAO gauged whether sales representatives engaged in potentially deceptive practices, such as making false or misleading statements about coverage or omitting material information about coverage. The results of the covert tests ranged from sales representatives appropriately explaining to GAO's undercover agents that a PPACA-exempt plan would not cover the pre-existing condition the undercover agents stated that they had, to engaging in potentially deceptive marketing practices that misrepresented or omitted information about the products they were selling. Specifically, in 21 of 31 covert tests, the sales representative appropriately referred undercover agents to a PPACA-compliant plan. In two of 31 covert tests, the sales representatives did not appear to engage in deceptive marketing practices but were not always consistent or clear in their explanation of the type of coverage and plans they were selling. In the remaining eight of 31 covert tests, the sales representatives engaged in potentially deceptive marketing practices, such as claiming the pre-existing condition was covered when the health plan documents GAO received after purchase said otherwise. GAO plans to refer these eight cases of potential deceptive marketing practices to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and corresponding state insurance commissioners' offices for follow-up as appropriate. Millions of Americans obtain health insurance coverage in the individual market, which consists mainly of private plans sold directly to consumers without access to group coverage. While generally regulated by states, starting in 2014, PPACA established a number of new federal requirements for the individual health insurance market. For example, PPACA prohibited insurers from excluding coverage or charging higher premiums for pre-existing conditions and required that individual market plans cover a set of essential health benefits, including coverage for mental health and substance abuse disorder services, prescription drugs, and maternity and newborn care. Certain types of health coverage arrangements that can be sold directly to consumers do not have to comply with some or all of PPACA's individual market requirements and, as a result, may be less expensive, but also offer more limited benefits compared to PPACA-compliant plans. Recent changes to federal law and regulations could result in the increased use of PPACA-exempt health coverage arrangements as alternatives to PPACA-compliant plans in the individual market. For example, in 2018, federal regulations expanded the availability of short term, limited duration insurance (STLDI) plans, a type of PPACA-exempt arrangement. In addition, starting January 1, 2019, individuals who fail to maintain "minimum essential coverage," as required by PPACA, no longer face a tax penalty. Further, the devastating economic effects of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic could create additional demand for affordable health coverage, including PPACA-exempt plans.  With these changes, and because of their lower relative costs, PPACA-exempt health coverage arrangements may be attractive to consumers, particularly those who find it difficult to afford PPACA-compliant plans. However, such arrangements generally do not need to follow PPACA's requirement that plans in the individual market be presented to consumers in defined categories outlining the extent to which they are expected to cover medical care. As a result, depending on how they are marketed and sold, PPACA-exempt arrangements could present risks for consumers, if, for example, they buy them mistakenly believing that coverage is as comprehensive as for PPACA-compliant plans. GAO was asked to obtain insights on the marketing and sales practices of insurance sales representatives who sell PPACA-exempt plans. In this report, GAO describes the results of covert tests we conducted involving selected sales representatives, when contacted by individuals stating that they had pre-existing conditions. In this regard, GAO agents performed a number of covert tests (i.e., undercover phone calls) from November 2019 through January 2020 posing as individuals needing to purchase health insurance to cover pre-existing conditions. GAO also discussed the marketing and oversight of PPACA-exempt arrangements with senior officials from federal agencies, including the FTC, and Centers of Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)5. GAO provided a draft of this product to FTC, HHS, and NAIC for review and comment. FTC, HHS, and NAIC provided technical comments, which GAO incorporated as appropriate. HHS provided additional written comments on a draft of this report. For more information, contact Seto Bagdoyan at (202)-6722 or bagdoyans@gao.gov.
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  • U.S.-Greenland Technical Engagement on Mining Sector Education and Training
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Former Bank Executive Sentenced to Prison for $15 Million Construction Loan Fraud
    In Crime News
    A former Kansas bank executive was sentenced to 60 months in prison today for his role in carrying out a bank fraud scheme to obtain a $15 million construction loan from 26 Kansas banks.
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  • Eight US Manufacturers Selected to Make NASA COVID-19 Ventilator
    In Space
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  • Antitrust Division Supports Modernizing Merger Filing Exemptions For Certain Investments
    In Crime News
    On Monday, September 21, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim concurred in the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Federal Register publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to revise the premerger notification rules (the Rules) that implement the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (HSR).
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  • Steel and Aluminum Tariffs: Commerce Should Improve Its Exclusion Request Process and Economic Impact Reviews
    In U.S GAO News
    The Department of Commerce (Commerce) has a four-phase process to review companies' requests to be excluded from having to pay Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs. Commerce ensures an exclusion request is complete, accepts public input, evaluates materials submitted, and issues a final decision. Between March 2018 and November 2019, Commerce received over 106,000 requests; it rejected over 19,000 of them prior to decision due to incorrect or incomplete information. Although rejections may delay relief for requesters and can increase work for Commerce, the agency has not identified, analyzed, or taken steps to fully address the causes of these submission errors. In deciding exclusion requests, Commerce examines objections from steel and aluminum producers to find whether the requested products are reasonably available domestically in a sufficient amount. Commerce may also decide exclusion requests based on national security issues, but has not done so. While Commerce approved two-thirds of exclusion requests, it most often denied requests that had technical errors or where a domestic producer had objected. Commerce did not decide about three quarters of requests within its established timeliness guidelines, as shown in the figure, taking more than a year to decide 841 requests. Commerce took steps to improve timeliness, such as streamlining the review process for some requests and creating a new submission website, but continues not to meet guidelines and had a backlog of 28,000 requests as of November 2019. Until Commerce takes additional steps, companies will continue to encounter delays in obtaining relief. Most Steel and Aluminum Exclusion Decisions Did Not Meet the Department of Commerce's Established Timeliness Guidelines from March 2018 to November 2019 Commerce has not documented the results from any reviews of the tariffs' impacts or assigned responsibility for conducting regular reviews. GAO found evidence of changes in U.S. steel and aluminum imports and markets. For example, imports covered by the tariffs declined after an initial surge and prices dropped after significant increases in earlier years. Evaluating whether the tariffs have achieved the intended goals and how they affect downstream sectors requires more in-depth economic analysis. Without assigning responsibility for conducting regular reviews and documenting the results, Commerce may be unable to consistently assess if adjustments to the tariffs are needed. Citing national security concerns over excess global supply of steel and aluminum, in March 2018 the President placed tariffs on the import of some products using Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. At the President's direction, Commerce established a process to provide relief, or exclusion, from the tariffs. GAO was asked to review Commerce's Section 232 tariff exclusion process. This report assesses (1) the process Commerce uses to decide exclusion requests and to what degree it has accepted submitted requests; (2) what criteria and factors affected Commerce's decisions; (3) how often Commerce met established guidelines for the timely resolution of requests; and (4) the extent to which Commerce reviewed the impacts of the tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, as directed. GAO analyzed Commerce's Bureau of Industry and Security and International Trade Administration records from March 2018 to November 2019, as well as data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security, and spoke with agency officials. GAO recommends that Commerce (1) identify, analyze, and respond to factors in the process that may cause submission errors; (2) take steps to improve timeliness of exclusion request decisions and address the backlog; and (3) assign responsibility for reviewing the tariffs' impact and document the results. Commerce concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or GianopoulosK@gao.gov .
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  • Brazil Travel Advisory
    In Travel
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  • Imposing Sanctions on Two Burmese State-Owned Enterprises
    In Crime Control and Security News
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