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FAQ: How Government Shutdown Affects Your Health

WebMD Answers Your Health Questions About Government Shutdown
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

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.
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