The Effects of the Government Shutdown on Public Health Programs

By Nicholas L. Cavarocchi, Vice President, CRD Associates

While the FY2019 Labor-HHS bill was signed into law, let’s not forget that the current partial government shutdown still leaves some vital public health programs in limbo. 

Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is funded through the yet to be enacted Agriculture spending bill, can still carry out their process for drug approval and oversight because their review process is paid for by user fees, other critical FDA operations are in jeopardy. With about 40 percent of the FDA off the job, not only is the safety and health of the American public in danger, but if there’s an infectious disease outbreak or foodborne illness from domestic or imported foods, reaction time will be too slow with a smaller staff, thus putting the lives of a lot of Americans at risk. 

The FDA continues to monitor for and respond to outbreaks, but in an emergency, furloughed staff members can only be called back long enough to address the emergency. 

In addition to the FDA, funding for the Indian Health Service (IHS), which is housed in the unfinished Interior spending bill, is on hold. That means critical health services for Native Americans are not being rendered. The IHS has suspended grants that support tribal health programs as well as preventive health clinics run by the Office of Urban Indian Health Programs. Individual tribes have to maintain and manage their programs through the shutdown, which is difficult because it affects the day-to-day operation of their health clinics and hospitals.   

If Congress and the White House do not resolve their differences, some clinics may have to close before the end of the month according to the National Council of Urban Indian Health. Two weeks after that, operations at another clinic will be limited making it difficult for thousands of patients to get treatment. 

With staff furloughed across both of these agencies, research will be halted, regulations will be on hold, and resources will not be available, costing the agencies time and money they may never be able to make up. 

While the House of Representatives has passed legislation to reopen the federal government and fund FDA and the Indian Health Service, the Senate Republican majority has no plans to consider this legislation due to the President’s veto threat.  Let’s hope Congress and the president act soon to end the shutdown. 

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