Here’s How A Shutdown Could Affect Public Health Services

Thanks largely to a solution brokered by a bipartisan group of about 20 senators, the afternoon of Jan. 22 produced a deal to end the government shutdown and reopen the government the following day. The Senate voted 81–18 to end debate and proceed to approve new temporary funding. The House passed the bill, and the president signed it that evening. So, we’re good to go -- at least until Feb. 8, at which time the current continuing resolution will expire. Hopefully, Congress will figure out how to keep the government up and running for more than a few weeks. But if it fails to do so, we could, in fact, be looking at another shutdown. A government shutdown will have far-reaching effects on public health, including the nation’s response to the current, difficult flu season. It will also disrupt some federally supported health services, according to experts. In all, the Department of Health and Human Services will send home -- or furlough -- about half of its employees, or nearly 41,000 people, according to an HHS shutdown contingency plan released Friday, Jan. 19. Here are some federal services and programs consumers might be wondering about: CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION According to the HHS plan, the CDC will suspend its flu-tracking program. That’s bad timing, given the country is at the height of a particularly bad flu season, said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Without the CDC’s updates, doctors could have a harder time diagnosing and treating patients quickly, he said. Although states will still track flu cases, “they won’t be able to call CDC to verify samples or seek their expertise,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was the director of the agency during the 2013 government shutdown. A government shutdown will also affect the CDC’s involvement in key decisions about next year’s flu vaccine, which are scheduled to be made in coming weeks, said Dr. Arnold Monto, a professor of global public health at the University of Michigan. Beyond the flu, the CDC will provide only “minimal support” to programs that inve [...]

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1/26/18 5:28 PM

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