January 13, 2019 Vineet Tummala
U.S. Government Shutdown has Major Health Consequences
The US government shutdown is now in day 23 of the longest shutdown in history with no end in sight. While the shutdown has major implications on legislation and wages, it also has a colossal impact on healthcare and public health. Like many other government agencies, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have had to furlough many of its workers and ask others to work without pay. The heavily understaffed agencies increase the risk of food-borne hazards and environmental emergencies. National parks are also facing environmental deterioration and a pile up of human waste due to the shutdown. On the other hand, the Veterans Affairs (VA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and public and private health insurance benefits are not affected by the partial government shutdown. If the government shutdown continues into February, 40 million people could go without access to food. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps to the neediest Americans, is expected to run out of funding in February and will no longer be able to reduce food insecurity if the shutdown continues. An increase in food insecurity and poor nutrition will lead to a spike in major societal health problems like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression. In addition to the possible rollback of SNAP, 78% percent of the 800,000 workers live paycheck to paycheck. The government shutdown has caused many affected workers to cut back on healthier food which is usually more expensive. While most Americans still have access to healthcare services, native communities are without healthcare since the Indian Health Service, which provides healthcare to tribal communities, is out of funding. If this government shutdown continues, there could be major long-term health consequences. Our country’s politicians must consider the negative severity of the potential health outcomes during this shutdown and should work with urgency to reach a political compromise and reopen the government before we reach a point of irreversibility.