Even if you don’t regularly pay attention to the news, you couldn’t avoid hearing about the recent government shutdown, which lasted a record 35 days and affected approximately 800,000 federal employees, about one-third of whom were veterans. The Congressional Budget Office reports the closure resulted in $11 billion of lost growth in gross domestic product due to delayed spending by those employees.
Let’s take a look at how healthcare was affected by the long government closure.
The Bright Side
One of the government agencies most affected by the shutdown was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring that foods are safe, wholesome, sanitary and properly labeled, assuring cosmetics and dietary supplements are safe and properly labeled, regulating tobacco products and more. Through a contingency plan released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the FDA was able to continue its response to emergencies, conduct inspections of high-risk food facilities and all foreign foods, manage high-risk recalls and address public health challenges such as drug shortages during the shutdown.
Funding for much of the HHS, which includes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is covered through September 2019. Thus, health programs like the ACA, Medicare, Medicaid and public health surveillance were not affected. Those employed in departments without funding still received their health insurance coverage during the closure, and all VA medical facilities remained operational during the shutdown. In addition, benefits that are part of the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program were available.
One area in healthcare certainly not affected by the shutdown was employment. According to Modern Healthcare, the industry was the third biggest job maker in January 2019 with 41,600 hires.
The Down Side
Now, let’s take a look at how specific government departments and programs were hampered by the closure.
Though the FDA wasn’t impacted across the board by the shutdown, it had to furlough many food safety inspectors or ask them to work without pay to perform inspections of high-risk foods. This HHS department wasn’t able to utilize the food safety operations funding it receives from the Department of Agriculture, meaning some routine regulatory and compliance activities were halted. The FDA reduced the number of safety inspections it performs and wasn’t able to legally accept submissions for new medical devices or drugs.
This agency, which is responsible for “protecting human and environmental health,” was limited in its ability to perform a variety of tasks, such as inspecting water for public consumption. Approximately 700 EPA employees worked without pay during the shutdown, and about 13,000 were furloughed.
Indian Health Service (HIS)
This agency, which is funded by the Department of the Interior, provides healthcare to nearly two million American Indians and Alaska Natives through 45 hospitals and approximately 300 clinics in 35 states. Although most HIS clinics remained open during the shutdown, their employees were not paid until it ended.
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