Multiple segments of the United States federal government have been shut down since December 22, 2018 and, as of the time of this writing, it is now officially regarded as the lengthiest shutdown in the nation’s history. In fact, this particular government shutdown has been going on for 30+ days with no foreseeable end in sight due to partisanship and sharp divisions with regards to political viewpoints.
Meanwhile, the masses of furloughed government workers must anxiously contend with the uncertainty of what the near future will bring. In addition, while many government workers have not been furloughed, they are reporting to their workplaces without pay. Since a large number of these men and women exist from paycheck to paycheck, many of their families will soon experience financial hardships and a lack of money to pay household bills.
Even though the current partial government shutdown was not directly related to or a direct result of healthcare policies or programs, it does have a notable impact on several aspects of the health system in the United States. The primary goal of this nonpartisan, nonpolitical piece is to bring up a handful of the federal entities that are presently being affected by the 2019 government shutdown.
Federal entities such as the Indian Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency all possess ties to the US healthcare industry, albeit in very different ways.
The Indian Health Service
The Indian Health Service, abbreviated IHS, is a governmental entity that operates within the US Department of Health and Human Services while obtaining its funding entirely via the Department of the Interior. The IHS delivers hands-on healthcare and implements public health service initiatives for descendants of federally recognized Native American tribal people, as well as Native Alaskan people.
Clinics operated by the IHS are still open and treating patients. However, the healthcare workers who staff these clinics currently report to work without pay. The unpaid federal employees who are working without pay include physicians, nurses, midlevel healthcare providers (physician assistants, nurse practitioners, midwives, clinical nurse specialists), medical office assistants, and other staffers who have been deemed ‘essential personnel.’
Furthermore, the IHS has temporarily halted all activities that have been regarded as nonessential. For instance, the IHS preventative health clinics operated by the Office of Urban Indian Health Programs are upheld by grants that have been suspended until the government shutdown comes to an end. In addition, monetary grants that sustain various tribal health programs have also been placed on hold until further notice.
The Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration, referred to as the FDA for short, is another federal agency with close ties to the US healthcare industry. Even though the FDA falls under the large sphere of of the US Department of Health and Human Services, this very important agency receives the entirety of its operational funding through the US Department of Agriculture.
Here’s the problem…the US Department of Agriculture has not yet been funded as a result of the government shutdown. Consequently, many operational divisions within the FDA are now not funded. Thus, nearly half of the individuals who work for the FDA have been furloughed. The FDA is responsible for carrying out multiple tasks that involve health and safety such as routine food inspections, pharmaceutical drug approvals, and regulation of tobacco products and cosmetics.
The Environmental Protection Agency
The Environmental Protection Agency, known as the EPA, is an independent agency of the federal government entrusted with a number of important responsibilities and programs that directly tie into public health and safety. Some of these responsibilities include ensuring the drinking water that citizens consume is safe, regulating insecticides, and managing the disposal of hazardous waste products.
The EPA is presently unfunded due to the government shutdown. As a result, an incredibly tiny skeleton crew of about 700 EPA employees have been reporting to work without pay. Meanwhile, more than 13,000 EPA workers have been furloughed due to the lack of funding. Because of the vast number of furloughed EPA employees, the health and safety activities usually carried out by them are not being completed at full capacity.