As the government shutdown drags on, patients and providers are feeling the strain. The latest bill from the House Republicans—which would delay the individual mandate and eliminate the federal government's health benefit contribution for members of Congress—has been rejected. This Congressional situation is likely to have significant and costly consequences on the many health programs and services that rely on government funding.
While the healthcare insurance exchanges remain open during the shutdown, other sectors are reporting challenges. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says without funding for the seasonal influenza program, they will not be able to support it. “We are on the edge of entering cold and flu season,” said Ilisa Halpern Paul, managing government relations director at Drinker Biddle and Reath in Washington. “For the CDC to not engage at this time, we could see outbreaks of the flu where we wouldn't have had it.”
There was even worse news coming from The National Institutes of Health (NIH). The institute reports that not only has funding slated for biomedical and clinical research been halted, but they will be forced to turn away approximately 200 patients a week at its clinical research center. Some of those patients include children diagnosed with cancer.
Patients who enroll in trials at the NIH Clinical center usually only do so “when standard medical treatments have failed, and other treatment options are not available." As a result, they have no other alternatives. Without the income needed to conduct experimental therapies and research on rare disease, NIH "would not be accepting new patients or initiating new clinical protocols during a hiatus.”
Ms Paul said that suspending NIH activity could be the difference between a cure and years of more suffering. “That is where I get worried,” said Ms Paul. “For a lot of policy makers, the impact of their actions is going to be hard to see in the near term, and have long-term, adverse consequences.”
This news only adds to the other troubles of medical schools nationwide. In 2013, they saw a $1 billion reduction in NIH funding as well as a $1.5 billion reduction in Medicare funding for hospital reimbursement and practice plan management.
While drastic effects of the shutdown are not expected within the first few days, Dr Atul Grover, chief policy officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges, compares the shutdown to the effects of a snowstorm. The first day won’t be so bad, but the longer the “storm” rages on, the more difficult it will become for patients and providers.
“All of this has really been the culmination of a very bad year in our ability to support these missions,” Grover said. “That's going to get worse if lawmakers don't resolve the government shutdown and if they don't try to alleviate the sequester cuts.”
Around the Web
The Shutdown Could Prevent Kids with Cancer from Getting Treatment [The Washington Post]
Government Shutdown Strains Patients, Providers [Modern Healthcare]