This is the third piece in a series of posts that discusses the far-reaching impact of the government shutdown on various healthcare and medical-related issues, either directly or otherwise. First and foremost, as of the time of this posting, this partial shutdown has achieved the historic status of becoming the longest-lasting one in the history of the United States.
To be approximate, this particular shutdown, which began on December 22, 2018, has been in effect for more than 30 days without a foreseeable conclusion for the near future. In addition, masses of federal employees and the millions of Americans who depend on the impacted government programs are beginning to feel the fallout of this intricate situation.
The first post delved into the shutdown’s effects on federal entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Indian Health Service and the Food and Drug Administration. Meanwhile, the second post explored the monetary blows to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), as well as the impact on the disabled persons and chronically ill senior citizens who rely on these programs.
Now it is time to shed some light onto the personal toll the government shutdown has had on federal employees and their families in regards to medical care. Members of the United States Coast Guard have sustained two tremendous blows since 1) they are not being paid and 2) some of their health insurance plans are directly affected.
Health Coverage for the United States Coast Guard
Because of the government shutdown, members of the U.S. Coast Guard are reporting to work without pay at the present time. Due to the fact that Coast Guard members have not been receiving any pay, no funds can possibly be deducted from their paychecks to cover the premiums for the varied health insurance plans that provide coverage to them and their families.
Tricare has declared it will continue to provide medical coverage to all members of the Coast Guard. However, representatives of BENEFEDS, the company responsible for administering dental and vision plans for Coast Guard members and their dependents, have stated that policyholders may end up being directly billed for any insurance premiums. Also, premiums will need to be paid to ensure continuation of coverage.
Health Coverage for Dependents of Other Types of Governmental Employees
Joseph Daskalakis’ son was born New Year’s Eve, a little over a week into the current government shutdown, and about 10 weeks before he was expected. Little Oliver ended up in a specialized neonatal intensive care unit, the only one that could care for him near their home in Lakeville, Minn.
But air traffic controller Daskalakis, 33, has an additional worry: The hospital where the newborn is being treated is not part of his current insurer’s network and the partial government shutdown prevents him from filing the paperwork necessary to switch insurers, as he would otherwise be allowed to do.
He could be on the hook for a hefty bill — while not receiving pay. Daskalakis is just one example of federal employees for whom being unable to make changes to their health plans really matters.
The following tale describes yet another situation of how the current shutdown has impacted the medical care of an individual:
Other families are also worried about paperwork delays, and the financial and medical effects a prolonged shutdown could cause. Dania Palanker, a health policy researcher at Georgetown’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms, studies what happens when families face insurance difficulties. Now she’s also living it.
After arranging to reduce her work hours because of health problems, Palanker knew her family would not qualify for coverage through her university job. No problem, she thought, as she began the process in December to enroll her family into coverage offered by her husband’s job with the federal government.
“We could not get the paperwork in time to apply for special enrollment through the government and get it processed before the shutdown,” Palanker said. Georgetown allowed her to boost her work hours this month to keep the family insured through January, but Georgetown’s share of her coverage will end in February.
Her treatments are expensive, so she is likely to hit or exceed her annual $2,000 deductible in January — then start over with another annual deductible once the family secures new coverage. “I’m postponing treatment in hopes that it is just a month and I’m back on the federal plan in February, but I can’t postpone indefinitely, as my condition will get worse,” said Palanker, who has an autoimmune disease that causes nerve damage.