The Government Shutdown & Your Health

    US flag and a stethoscopeDespite the federal government shutdown, U.S. officials said Medicare and Medicaid recipients and veterans will continue to receive health-care benefits.

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    The shutdown also won’t stop Tuesday’s introduction of the health insurance exchanges that are a foundation of the Affordable Care Act. The health-reform law, also known as Obamacare, is ground zero in the budget stalemate on Capitol Hill between Republicans and Democrats that led to the shutdown.

    However, a number of programs important to public health will probably be disrupted. They include infectious disease surveillance, inspections of food and drug manufacturers, and monitoring of imported foods and drugs, government officials said Monday afternoon.

    The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expected to furlough 52 percent of its staff in the shutdown, sending home approximately 40,500 employees, according to a contingency plan released by the agency. An estimated 38,000 staffers will remain on the job for the short term.

    The disruption in government services won’t affect people receiving health care through Medicare or Medicaid, officials said.

    “In the short term, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption during a lapse in appropriations,” the contingency plan said, adding that money already has been set aside to continue funding to states for Medicaid services and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

    The shutdown also won’t affect any medical programs provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, officials added.

    “All VA medical facilities and clinics will remain fully operational,” the agency said in a shutdown guide sent to its field offices. “The Veterans Health Administration has received an advance appropriation to continue its services without disruption.”

    In a somewhat ironic twist, the shutdown also won’t halt the rollout of the health exchanges, or marketplaces, a cornerstone of the health-care law. The program that many Republicans are intent on defunding — in exchange for keeping the government operating — will proceed even as other services falter.

    “Many of the core parts of the health-care law are funded through mandatory appropriations and wouldn’t be affected,” HHS official Gary Cohen told the Associated Press. Cohen is director of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight.

    President Barack Obama has echoed those remarks.

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