There is no doubt that the partial government shutdown, the longest in US history, is having a detrimental effect on the 800,000 Federal government employees and their families. In response to the crisis, some furloughed workers have gone to extreme measures; thousands have created GoFundMe pages to help pay for necessities like food, childcare, and medicine.
Put yourself in their shoes. Now imagine that you have cancer.
For most of cancer patients who are Federal employees, the shutdown means that that lifesaving drugs and therapies have become luxuries they will have to do without. And it’s not a matter of choosing between healthcare and groceries. Recommended treatments are expensive; for one Stage IV colon cancer patient (and Federal employee) chemotherapy and other healthcare costs run around $50,00 per month.
Although long-time government workers have weathered previous shutdowns, the current one is particularly problematic, considering its duration and the fact that it began in 2018 and continues into the new year. For a Federal employee, a change made to insurance (for instance, switching plans or adding a dependent) is not yet in effect. Deductible and out-of-pocket expenses, however, have been reset for 2019. For unpaid workers who are not receiving reimbursement from their flexible spending accounts (FSAs), paying these bills is next to impossible.
Looking at impacts of the shutdown more broadly, consider that 40% of FDA staff has been furloughed. While the agency will continue to handle “critical” matters (i.e.., the flu, food-borne illnesses, and drug recalls), it will likely not have the staff required to review new drug applications. Thus, delays bringing new critical drugs and devices to market are likely.
A few cancer patients whose stories went public have seen some temporary relief, including Ms. Kuchar, whose 2019 healthcare insurance plan is now active. Yet she is still responsible for her $5,000 deductible while not being paid. Sadly, she is one of the rare, lucky ones. As of this post (33 days and two missing paychecks later), many are still waiting.