April 8, 2011 — What does a government shutdown mean for our health? Here’s WebMD’s FAQ, with answers to questions from WebMD readers and staff.
Which health services will continue? Which won’t?
Most government health services are administered by the Department of Health and Human Services. During the government shutdown, 62% of HHS employees will not be allowed to work.
The remaining 38% of HHS employees will continue to administer programs that involve the safety of human life and protection of property, as well as programs that pay for themselves.
HHS shutdown plans remain sketchy, but here’s a rundown of how the shutdown affects HHS services:
- Medicare and Medicaid: If the shutdown last only a few weeks, Medicare and Medicaid coverage of medical care and prescription drugs will continue. However, funds could run out before the end of the summer if there is a continued shutdown. And it’s not clear whether doctors would get paid during a shutdown, so some doctors may decide to stop taking Medicare/Medicaid patients. The Medicare hotline would continue, but staffing cutbacks will mean longer wait times. Health care fraud and abuse teams will not work.
- National Institutes of Health: The NIH Clinical Center will continue to direct patient care and clinical trials, but only for current patients and studies already under way. It will serve about 90% of its normal patient load. No new patients will be accepted; new clinical trials will not start. No new medical research will be funded. The NIH will continue to feed and protect all animals in its care.
- FDA: The FDA will continue to review imports offered for entry into the U.S.
- Indian Health Service: The IHS will continue to provide direct clinical services and referrals for contracted services.
- Health Resources and Services Administration: Health Centers will continue to pay grantees for services. HRSA grants provide health care to uninsured people, people living with HIV/AIDS, and pregnant women, mothers, and children. It also supports rural health care and oversees blood and organ donation.
- The Administration for Children and Families: Many ACF programs will continue for the time being. These include support to states for foster care, adoption assistance, and child support enforcement.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: SAMHSA would continue the national Suicide Prevention Hotline.
- CDC: The CDC will continue global health programs abroad, such as Haiti cholera relief, that are funded by prior-year appropriations. Epidemic intelligence officers will continue surveillance for disease outbreaks, but a wide range of CDC-supported activities will not continue.
The Veterans Administration is a major source of government supported health care. Here’s how the shutdown affects the VA:
- All VA clinics and medical facilities will remain open, including prescription services.
- No new Educational and Vocational Rehabilitation benefit claims will be accepted.
- The Board of Veterans Appeals will be closed.
- There will be no new VA hiring, staffing, or training.
- The National Cemetery Administration will slow down military burials and will not process applications for Presidential Memorial Certificates.
Other non-HHS health services affected by the government shutdown include:
- USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service: Meat, poultry, and egg inspections will continue.
- Consumer Product Safety Commission: The CPSC staff will be reduced from 575 employees to 23 employees. “Recalls in the works, related to imminent risk to consumers, would continue,” CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson tells WebMD. “New cases that come in, that are in the imminent risk situation, would be carried out by [the 23] excepted employees.” The CPSC web site will stay active and the CPSC hotline for reporting unsafe products will remain open.
- Public information: Nearly all public information offices will be closed or severely cut back.
If I don’t receive any government financial support, will this affect me in any way? Will it impact the way we go to the doctor or fill our prescriptions?
Probably not. However, closing of most of the FDA means that there will be less drug-safety oversight. Cutbacks at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services mean the popular CMS hotline will have longer wait times, and investigations of Medicare/Medicaid fraud will be suspended.
I’m a dialysis patient; how will this affect me? Does this shutdown include Medicare dialysis places?
Dialysis is a life-saving medical procedure. Dialysis centers will not be closed, and patients whose dialysis is supported by Medicare will continue to receive services.
I am on my (late) husband’s government health insurance (he was a government employee). If the government shuts down, will my health insurance?
Government health insurance will remain in effect.
I am on Social Security. What impact is this going to have on it? Will disability payments be affected?
Social Security itself is not affected by the government shutdown, as it is funded separately. But some government employees who administer Social Security will be furloughed. This likely means that processing of new Social Security applications will slow down, and there will be longer wait times to speak with Social Security personnel.