The possibility of a government shutdown Thursday could have a ripple effect on healthcare providers but mostly if the shutdown is prolonged. Congress is in an eleventh-hour race to pass a spending bill or risk a second government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner's surprise announcement that he is resigning from Congress in late October was seen by many as lessening that possibility. Tea party conservatives had threatened to oust Boehner if he didn't hold firm on a spending bill that defunds Planned Parenthood. His decision to step down allows him to act 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 appropriations. However, HHS employees who process claims could be furloughed, making payment delays possible. With a two-week lag on Medicare claims, a significant effect wouldn't be seen unless a shutdown stretches longer than that.
The 16-day 2013 shutdown had a limited effect on providers despite skeletal crews at many federal agencies. HHS plowed ahead with its first open enrollment for the health insurance exchanges. During the 21-day shutdown that began in late 1995, HHS ultimately had to pay claims on credit.
Veterans Affairs hospitals will continue to operate during a shutdown, but a spokesperson did not confirm whether there would be an impact on elective and other ancillary services.