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Here’s What the Government Shutdown Means for Federal Health Care Programs

A bird sits on a street sign marking the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in Atlanta.
A bird sits on a street sign marking the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013, in Atlanta. AP Photo/David Goldman


As of midnight Friday, the U.S. federal government has officially been shut down.

While the possibility of a shutdown looms every once in a while as the two parties struggle for power and funding, it’s not often a reality we have to face — and it can be pretty nerve-wracking when it does happen, even if you know what to expect.

But while getting your tax refund and signing up for social security benefits can wait (although frustrating, we know), one thing really can’t: health care.

If you rely on a government-subsidized health care program, a government shutdown can become even more worrying.

Nearly 41,000 HHS employees will be furloughed during the shutdown, according to a shutdown contingency plan released by the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday.

Since the federal health care workforce is being temporarily cut in half, some services will experience disruptions, while others continue as usual.

(It should be noted that HHS states that due to the current situation, the information presented in this plan “may not be up to date or acted upon.” Further updates can be found here, although the site notes that operations will vary by agency.)

Health Care During the Government Shutdown

Here’s how government-subsidized health care services will be affected for the time being.

Medicare

In the case of a short-term shutdown, the Medicare program will carry on without issue. You’ll still receive coverage, and reimbursement payments to providers will continue.

Medicaid

States have sufficient funding to cover Medicaid through the second quarter of this year. Since enrolling new patients into the Medicaid program is done at a state level the process will not be affected.

CHIP

While authorization for federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program expired in October, and Congress has yet to come to an agreement on the next long-term solution, enough staff will be maintained throughout the shutdown to continue payments to eligible states from remaining carryover balances. In short, CHIP will continue as is for the time being.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The CDC’s capabilities will be cut back significantly, but the agency is allocating resources in an attempt to “protect the health and well-being of US citizens” by focusing on the “immediate response to urgent disease outbreaks,” including influenza.

Though at a reduced rate and capacity, the CDC will continue to track and report data collected by states and hospitals in an effort to support state and local health authorities in tracking, preventing and treating the flu.

This is especially important now during one of the worst flu outbreaks the U.S. has experienced in a while.

Staff currently supporting immediate and ongoing hurricane response programs will continue to do so.

The Affordable Care Act

Premium subsidies for those enrolled under the ACA will not be affected, and the state marketplaces will remain open to those who qualify to sign up during the off-season.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

SAMHSA will continue running on leftover grant balances, and will continue offering access to the Disaster Distress Helpline, Treatment Locator, Treatment Referral Line, and Suicide Prevention Lifeline. In addition, SAMHSA will have staff continue to receive and reroute letters “indicating suicidal ideation” to local suicide lifeline programs.

Food and Drug Administration

The FDA will continue limited activities, focusing on vital functions in an effort to protect consumers in the event of emergencies, civil and criminal investigations, high-risk recalls and import entry reviews.

The FDA will not be able to continue to support most of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetic reviews. It will also put a pause on routine establishment inspections and compliance and enforcement.

Administration for Community Living

The Senior Nutrition programs, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, protection and advocacy for persons with developmental disabilities, Independent Living Centers and services, Native American Nutrition and Supportive Services, and Prevention of Elder Abuse and Neglect will not be supported.

Veterans Affairs

The majority of staffing for the Department of Veterans Affairs (more than 99%) will continue working.

The Veterans Benefits Administration will have to furlough one third of its staff, which will affect life insurance and disability check distribution.

Health Resources and Services Administration

Community Health Centers and the Maternal, Infant and Child Health Home Visiting program will continue to operate.

To see the full list of expected health care related cutbacks during the government shutdown, see the HHS contingency plan here in its entirety.

Grace Schweizer is a junior writer at The Penny Hoarder.

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