The government shutdown is finally over, hooray! Let us celebrate the reopening of our National Parks. Our National monuments can once again be visited, the devoted fathers and religious men serving our country are allowed to resume their religious practices and service and the perpetual debates about the debt ceiling can continue.
Although the 16-day government shutdown came to end, the residual effects are sure to remain. The impact the government shutdown had on the American public is evident, but what seems to remain hidden is the devastation the medical community felt by this shutdown. The pillars of medicine and healthcare in the United States will experience the struggle and stress induced by this shutdown for months ahead.
The three main pillars of healthcare in the United States are the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, United States Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. Together these institutions aim to protect and serve the people of the United States, and the world, through healthcare.
However, this government shutdown has halted the progress and hard work of all of these essential institutions and jeopardized the health of the American public. When the government is shut down, people don’t stop getting sick. The CDC employs over 13,000 people in order to serve this country through a focus on public health. They are charged with the task of protecting people from diseases, injuries and disabilities, as well as other health problems associated with natural disasters and bioterrorism attacks.
They focus on the health of the American public and dedicate each every hour in protecting the health of the American people. During the shutdown this institution was crippled. Forced to turn away more than 68 percent of their work force was furloughed and sent home. The headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia had less than 500 people on the office on the penultimate day of the shutdown, as compared to the average 3,000 employees present at the headquarters regularly. As said by Thomas R. Freidman, director of the CDC, in an interview during the shutdown, “We’re used to juggling things at CDC, but this is like juggling chainsaws.”
The CDC was unable to keep up with the regular duties this understaffed. Outbreaks of disease went unreported and ill-researched. Phone lines and e-mails filled to the brim, incapacitating most of the work force that was present just to keep up with the influx of data and information.
Every day the CDC and associated networks receive over one million emails daily regarding outbreaks, illness and public health safety. With the frustration born from the shutdown things could only degrade more.
Scientists were unable to continue studies and work due to their absence which led to a rather unsettling disconnect. On Oct. 7 the CDC issued a public health alert amidst the shutdown warning the American people of a salmonella outbreak that had been in development since long before the government shutdown. Already working with minimal staff, it took incredible effort to even notify the public of this outbreak. Other ongoing research also came to a freeze during the shutdown which could have major consequences for scientific developments. No one knows this unfortunate consequence better than the NIH.
The government shutdown has led the NIH to no longer accept patients into clinical trials.
This affects approximately 200 people every week who are hoping to gain access to a new treatment of method of care to help combat serious and critical illness. John T. Burklow a spokesperson for the NIH discusses the demographics of patients who would suffer because of this shutdown. Of the average 200 patients that seek entrance into new developing clinical, 30 would be children, and about 10 would be children with cancer.
Taking it even further current research in place at the NIH had to take a backseat and one of the largest sources of medical advancement and new health care techniques was resolved to simply ensuring refrigerators remained running and cell lines stayed alive.
It almost seems like all research and advancement came to a momentary halt. Sources of incoming via grants and agencies bringing billions of dollars to research labs and scientific investigation were ceased. Ninety-eight percent of the National Science Foundation has been furloughed and no new scientific research grants were issued.
Even the brand-new health insurance marketplace took considerable blows due to the government shutdown. Coming under criticism due to its technical glitches and common crashes, the blurred lines between the government shutdown and the affordable care act are so uncertain that Robin Thicke can’t even tell the difference.
This is due to the connection between the federal budget and the affordable health care act. One of the main contributing components to the government shutdown was appropriating finances to fund the affordable care act. With disagreements between the House of Representatives and the Senate about where the funding would come from, a budget was unable to be passed Oct. 1, resulting in the government shutdown.
Although little has changed between the reopening of the government and the governments fractured opinion on the affordable care act, approaching Jan. 1 when the act will swing into full effect—excluding a few conditions—there will surely be a wave of interesting government decisions and debates. Especially now that the debt ceiling has been raised until Feb. 7, the winter will be an interesting time for health care and economic reform in the United States.
One thing is for sure though: the turmoil and frustration of the government shutdown spans much more than just road, parks and representation, the shutdown has affected science, medicine and progress in ways that will continue to affect the United States healthcare and scientific community for a long time.