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From Health Law Daily, January 22, 2018

HHS outlines staffing plan for government shutdown

By Sheila Lynch-Afryl, J.D., M.A.

HHS’ contingency plans for agency operations in the absence of appropriations would lead to furloughing 50 percent of HHS staff "as of day two of a near-term funding hiatus," according to HHS. Percentages vary among HHS’ agencies, with grant-making and employee-intensive agencies having the majority of their staff on furlough, and agencies with a substantial direct service component having most of their staff retained.

The government shutdown could be nearing an end—for now—as the U.S. Senate plans to vote on a spending measure that will expire February 8. However, given Congress’ recent record with passing long-term budgets, HHS could be in the same position in just a couple weeks; in December Congress passed a short-term joint resolution that funded the government through December 22 (see Appropriations Act would keep agencies running, redistribute CHIP allocations . . . for now, December 8, 2017) and a Continuing Resolution that funded the government through January 19, 2018 (see Same but different; shutdown averted, CHIP gets temp funding, December 22, 2017).

CMS. HHS said that the Medicare program will continue "largely without disruption" during a short-term lapse in appropriations. Other non-discretionary activities such as the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program and Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation activities would also continue. States will have sufficient funding for Medicaid through the second quarter, and CMS will maintain sufficient staff to make payments from remaining Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) carryover balances. Via email CMS indicated that Medicare administrative contractors will continue to perform Medicare fee-for-service claims processing and payment.

CDC. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will provide "minimal support" to protect the health of U.S. citizens through a "significantly reduced capacity to respond to outbreak investigations, processing of laboratory samples, and maintaining the agency’s 24/7 emergency operations center." However, CDC's immediate response to urgent disease outbreaks, including seasonal influenza, would continue. In addition, CDC staff that are currently supporting the hurricane response will continue to respond to public health needs in the affected areas, and it will also continue World Trade Center Health Program and certain childhood obesity activities, which are supported through mandatory funding.

FDA. HHS reported that FDA will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition, and cosmetics activities and will have to stop safety activities like routine establishment inspections, some compliance and enforcement activities, monitoring of imports, notification programs (including food contact substances and infant formula), and the majority of the laboratory research necessary to inform public health decision-making. The FDA would perform "limited activities" related to its user fee-funded programs and would continue certain vital activities, including maintaining critical consumer protection to handle emergencies, high-risk recalls, civil and criminal investigations, import entry review, and other critical public health issues.

IHS. Indian Health Service (IHS) will continue to provide direct clinical health care services and referrals for contracted services. However, it would be unable to provide funding to Tribes and Urban Indian health programs, and would not perform national policy development and issuance, oversight, and other functions, except those necessary to meet the immediate needs of the patients, medical staff, and medical facilities.

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