What the government shutdown means for your healthcare

Jonathan Kaupanger
January 22, 2018 - 11:28 am

Photo by Bob King/Duluth News-TribuneMCT)

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Alright veterans, the Government is down for a while, but if you are registered in VA’s healthcare, your medical care continues. We’re good, but how about the rest of the countries healthcare?

There are a few VA offices that aren’t open today. The one that will effect more veterans is the appeals process is not happening while the Gov’t is closed.  Here's a list of all the services that aren’t happening today.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has furloughed about half of its employees.  This alone can cause problems for the rest of us.  According to the HHS contingency plan, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continues to be open, but offers “minimal support to protect the health and well-being of US Citizens.”  Even with the US in the middle of a pretty nasty flu season, the CDC is suspending its flu-tracking program.

Some states may still track flu cases, but while the government is closed, they won’t be able to report cases, or look for expertise from the agency. The shutdown could also affect next year’s flu vaccine as they are scheduled to be made in the next few weeks.  The other big issue effecting us all with the CDC is the ability to test pathogens is significantly reduced.  These tests are usually how the CDC identifies clusters of symptoms and these can be the earliest indicators of outbreaks.

(Word of advice, get your flu shot now!  February could be a very tough month when it comes to the flu. And we may just not know how bad things are getting with a shutdown going on.)

The National Institute of Health continues to treat patients, however, the agency isn’t enrolling any new patients in clinical trials.  If you head to HIH’s website, you’re told that transactions submitted through the site may not be processed.  The agency won’t be able to respond to requests until the US is back open for business.

Medicare beneficiaries are pretty much on the same level as VA medical care. If the shutdown is short, then all is good!  Insurance coverage continues and reimbursements will continue to be processed to medical providers.  A delay could kick in if the closure is a long one, but for now, all is good.

States already have Medicaid funding to make it through the second quarter, so there shouldn’t be any issues here.  Even applying for Medicaid is handled by the states, so again, things should be running as smooth as things can here.  A big issue is the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which ran out of federal funding on Oct. 1.  The program provides coverage for lower-income children. It was announced on Friday that the staff used to make payments to states will continue to work during the shutdown.

The HHS plan states that the Health Resources and Services Administration will continue to operate Community Health Centers.  There are about 1,400 of these centers in the country that provide preventive care, dentistry and other basic services to about 27 million low-income Americans.  Another program for low-income help, the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, is running for now.  Again, like the CHIP program, funding for this home visiting program was not renewed last fall, so they too are running on low funds.

ACA premium subsidies are not affected. People who get their health insurance through healthcare.gov or state marketplaces will not be affected by the shutdown according to HHS.

At least the critical activities of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will continue.  Basically, public safety programs will continue.  As will positions that are paid by user fees, like work in the Center for tobacco Products.  Routine inspections and laboratory research will stop.  During the last shutdown in 2013, grants for rare-disease drug development were decided to not be necessary and so were postponed.

The Administration for Community Living will not be able to fund senior nutrition programs during the shutdown.  This most likely will delay payments to programs like Meals on Wheels, which serves more than 2.4 million seniors across the country.  “Meals” gets about 35 percent of it’s funding from the Older Americans Act.  Programs ran through the Department of Agriculture, including Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Child Nutrition Programs and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants and Children have funding that will possibly last through February and in some cases, March.

Food safety programs at the FDA will stop. That said, inspections done by the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service will continue.  Meat and poultry inspections are considered a critical and essential task so inspections here are done continuously.