Saturday, October 5, 2013

How Will the Government Shutdown Affect Health Care?

Since Congress failed to agree on whether or not to defund, alter, or delay the Affordable Care Act, and in so doing failed to pass legislation to fund the federal government, the government shut down as of Oct. 1. This means that under programs tied to annual spending bills, those federal services deemed “nonessential” are suspended until Congress passes a budget and the president signs it. Services that have their own funding provisions, such as the Affordable Care Act, are not affected.  So how will this affect health care organizations in the United States?

  • Half the staff (52 percent) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) are furloughed, meaning they have been sent home without pay until further notice. “Essential” employees include those who run the Suicide Prevention Hotline, while employees who investigate Medicare and Medicaid fraud abuse have been sent home.
  • The National Institutes of Health, which conducts health-related research, will be unable to accept new patients for clinical trials. Academic medical centers and teaching hospitals also will feel the brunt of the shutdown.
  • Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics remain open but are unable to process new education and rehabilitation benefits or hold hearings for claims appeals.
  • Medicare patients will continue to receive their benefits, and states will continue to receive federal Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program money, since these funds were determined by earlier legislation.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed its seasonal flu program on hold and has a “significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations,” an agency memo revealed. Flu vaccine supply and distribution will not be affected by the shutdown.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has shut down almost entirely.
  • The Food and Drug Administration is “unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities,” according to an HHS memo. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will continue to inspect meat.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration will stop workplace inspections unless an “imminent danger situation” has been reported.
  • The Women, Infants, and Children program, which provides nutrition, nutrition education, and health care referrals for nearly 950,000 low income Texas women and children, will receive no new federal funds. However Texas has emergency funds to keep this program running for the immediate future.
  • The Affordable Care Act will continue to roll out as planned. In fact, enrollment in the ACA’s online marketplace began Tuesday, the first day of the government shutdown.

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