The possibility of a government shutdown on Thursday could have a ripple effect on healthcare providers, but that's likely only if the shutdown is prolonged.
Congress is once again in an 11th-hour race to pass a spending bill or risk the second government shutdown in as many years.
Still, Republican Rep. John Boehner's announcement that he plans to resign as Speaker of the House was seen by many as a lessening of that possibility. Tea Party conservatives had threatened to oust Boehner from his position if he didn't hold firm on a spending bill that would defund Planned Parenthood. His decision to step down allows him to move forward on a compromise plan that preserves funding for the women's healthcare provider and, by extension, the entire government.
Even with a shutdown, funds to pay Medicare claims come from a trust fund that's separate from Congressional appropriations. However, the HHS employees who process those claims could be furloughed, creating the possibility of payment delays. But given that there's a two-week lag on Medicare claims, a significant impact wouldn't be seen unless a shutdown stretches longer than that.
The 16-day shutdown in 2013 had a limited impact on healthcare providers, despite installing a skeletal crew at many agencies. HHS plowed ahead with its first enrollment period for the newly operational health insurance exchanges, and Food and Drug Administration advisory committee meetings continued as planned.
But during the 21-day shutdown in late December 1995 through January 1996, HHS ultimately had to pay claims on credit.
Veterans Affairs hospitals will continue to operate in the event of a shutdown, but a spokesperson could not immediately confirm whether there would be an impact on elective and other ancillary services.