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How Another Government Shutdown Could Affect U.S. Health Care

Posted by Scott Harrah
January 24, 2018

Democrats and Republicans made a deal to end the recent government shutdown, but it’s only temporary until February 8, 2018. What could happen to U.S. health care if the government is shut down again, and how will health-care professionals deal with this winter’s bad flu season and other medical crises?

The UMHS Endeavour looks at how government shutdowns affect U.S. health care. We will examine how shutdowns affect the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Medicare, Medicaid, and other government-run health programs.

Another Shutdown Could Hinder CDC’s ‘Flu Tracking’

CDC WOULD BE AFFECTED MOST: The CDC and its flu-tracking program would be suspended during another shutdown. Pictured: The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Building in Atlanta. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsThe CDC and HHC would be affected the most by any shutdown, a January 22, 2018 article in USA Today said.

The CDC’s flu-tracking program, considered vital during this especially dangerous winter flu season, would be suspended during a shutdown.

Thomas Frieden, former CDC director during the infamous 2013 shutdown, said states will continue tracking the flu but “won’t be able to call CDC to verify samples of seek their expertise.” This would make it more difficult for doctors to diagnose and treat patients.

The Atlanta-based government agency runs a 24-hour emergency operations center to handle both influenza and other infectious disease outbreaks, but the CDC’s abilities to help doctors and other health-care providers could be “minimal” during a shutdown, officials said.

(Photo, inset above) CDC WOULD BE AFFECTED MOST: The CDC and its flu-tracking program would be suspended during another shutdown. Pictured: The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention Building in Atlanta. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How a Shutdown Would Affect Medicare, Etc.

NBC News published a Kaiser Health News report on January 22nd on other ways a shutdown affects such other health-oriented agencies as Medicare, Medicaid and more.

Americans on Medicare would probably not be affected by a short shutdown, Kaiser Health noted. Checks to medical providers would still be sent out, but could be delayed during a longer shutdown.

Since states already have Medicaid funding through the second quarter of 2018, health care for low-income and poor Americans probably would not be interrupted in most cases, Kaiser pointed out. The Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) Program, which provides coverage for children of low-income people who earn too much for Medicaid, faced a funding challenge during this most recent shutdown. The “regular authorization” for CHIP expired on October 1, 2018. After negotiating with Congress, President Trump signed into law a deal, as part of the agreement to end this month’s government shutdown, to extend CHIP for six years, Kaiser Health said. Extending funding for CHIP and continuing the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or "dreamers" legislation for immigrants born outside the U.S. (offering conditional residency) were the two reasons for the recent shutdown. Democrats and Republicans have not agreed yet on how to extend DACA legislation.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would not be directly affected during a brief shutdown, Kaiser Health said.

(Top photo) FLU TRACKING COULD BE SUSPENDED: If another government shutdown occurs in February 2018, doctors’ ability to track flu with CDC officials & diagnose patients could be severely limited. Photo: Rhoda Baer/Wikimedia Commons

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Posted by Scott Harrah

Scott is Director of Digital Content & Alumni Communications Liaison at UMHS and editor of the UMHS Endeavour blog. When he's not writing about UMHS students, faculty, events, public health, alumni and UMHS research, he writes and edits Broadway theater reviews for a website he publishes in New York City,

Topics: Medicine and Health

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