Currently, the US is bracing itself for a potential imminent shutdown of the government. This is a direct result of a small group of politicians threatening not to sign a short term agreement to give the government more funds. Unfortunately, a lot of healthcare programs may be directly affected by these shutdowns. This especially includes programs that benefit lower income individuals in need of healthcare services. How exactly would this hypothetical government shutdown affect nursing and healthcare? How much should healthcare professionals truly be concerned? This article aims to answer all these questions and more.
Community healthcare centers would be compromised
The bulk of community healthcare centers rely on government funding to continue operations. These centers operate to provide more affordable healthcare services to the disenfranchised patients in need, regardless of whether or not they are able to pay. With 1,400 community healthcare centers spread across the nation serving more than 30 million people, a government shutdown would immediately put these populations at risk. As long as the shutdown lasts, the nurses who work in these centers will remain unpaid and out of jobs within that time. This disproportionately affects low income communities who rely on these care centers for any kind of healthcare, whatsoever.
Federal workers in general will be hit hard
Healthcare providers who work with the government directly will be caught in a precarious situation, if the government goes ahead with a shutdown. The Health and Human Services Department (HHS) directly states that 42% of their workers would be furloughed without pay if a shutdown ever happened. For reference, this is around 37,000 government employees. Although doctors and nurses may continue to get paid by submitting their bills to Medicaid, the staff shortages will make things more difficult and reimbursement may be delayed because of these shortages. Even the healthcare staff that remains will be working without pay for the duration of the shutdown.
Medicaid would (most likely) remain unaffected
As a silver lining, Medicaid would not be affected that much by a hypothetical government shutdown. Although Medicaid and Medicare make up 17% and 21% of government spending, respectively, funding for both is “mandatory” and would not be affected by the current proceedings. This being said, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would be affected by the furloughs and layoffs of federal employees that was mentioned earlier. Though both programs will persist, operations will be significantly hindered for as long as the shutdown lasts. Medicaid applications, for example, could be slowed down or halted entirely because of the aforementioned staff woes.
What is the outlook?
In recent memory, there has not been a federal government shutdown that lasted longer than 34 days. If it does come, the proceedings should not drag for too long, and funding would be restored directly afterwards. A great deal of damage can be done within that time, however. Community centers may be in threat of getting shut down, and vulnerable patients will experience long gaps between receiving critical care. Nurses and staff who work in government facilities can be furloughed, laid off, or made to work without pay within this time, even if they would hypothetically receive all their pay after the end of the shutdown. For now, all HCPs can do is wait and observe the situation, while hoping for the best.