With the government shutdown continuing into its second week and most likely will extend for another week or more, what’s the impact, or potential impact, on health care for people with chronic conditions and what can you do?
While Medicaid and Medicare are still operational, the following have been impacted:
• Government health agencies such as the NIH (National Institutes of Health) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have furloughed 52% of their staff. Websites, such as Pub Med, Medline Plus, are not being updated or are receiving minimal attention. The CDC has significantly less capacity to deal with outbreaks such as flu. As CDC Director, Dr. Tom Frieden noted, "I usually don't lose sleep despite the threats that we face, but I am losing sleep because we don't know if we'll be able to find and stop things that might kill people.” The NIH is not taking new patients or taking action on grant applications. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities.
• Social security and Medicare continue to pay, but there can be delays in processing new disability applications.
• Many state human services agencies-including programs such as WIC (Women, Infant, Children), heating/fuel assistance, housing etc. receive a significant portion of their funding from the federal government. The longer the shutdown, the more likely it is that state programs, as well as community based organizations, will no longer be able to remain functional and significant cuts will be made. Since many with chronic conditions are in need of these types of services, this will most likely be the area of biggest impact.
What You Can Do
1. If you count on services like WIC, heating assistance, housing etc., the first thing is to find out what the impact could be the longer the shutdown lasts. Is your state going to use their own money to keep some of the these programs going? If you don’t know who to call in your state, dial 2 1 1, the information number. They may already have information that can help you, or they can refer you to someone who knows more.
2. Once you know what might happened and when, start preparing. What is it that you absolutely must have? Make a list and eliminate anything that isn’t essential. Need ways to cut back? Read Consider Ways to Save Money on Monthlies (Bills).
3. Assess what is available in your community that is not tied to federal funds. Be sure to consider:
- civic organizations (e.g. Rotary, Lions Club)
- condition specific organizations (e.g. American Cancer Society)
- support groups: not only condition specific ones, but places like AA
- family and friends
- thrift stores and food shelves
- food coop
- charitable funds of major businesses
4. Reach out to those listed in item 3. What can you do to help them? If you are scratching your head and thinking, “but I’m the one that needs help,” consider this- One of the most important things any of us can do, shutdown or not, is develop “social capital.” If you are not familiar with that term, it basically means investing in your community so that you can be of help to them, and they can help you when you need it. The website “Better Together” offers 150 ways , and counting, to help you develop social capital. Bottom line is that if you are already involved in helping, you will be in a better position to benefit should you need it.
5. If you thinking, “but I’m very limited in what I can do,” you’d be surprised at what you can offer that will help. Consider things like:
- Organizing a support group
- Offering to telephone or e-mail members of an organization
- Stuff envelopes
- Write a newsletter, or write an article for a newsletter
- Be an advocate for others, even if it’s just talking to them by phone or e-mail
- Donate items or services for fundraising events: This can include making a dish for a pot luck supper; knitting something; giving gently used items that can be resold etc.
- Helping to staff an office.
- Become a member and/or board member
- If you have computer skills, offer to run a website, Facebook, blog or a Lotsa Helping Hands website
To learn more ways to help, call or send an e-mail to a group in your community where you’d like to volunteer.
6. Since we’re now heading into Flu season, and the CDC has been heavily impacted by the shutdown, follow the guidelines in Don’t have time for the flu. Take Time to Prevent it.
7. Let people know what you need. If you don’t know, they can’t help you.