What the government shutdown means for the health of Americans

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Morten Wendelbo, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports local and state authorities in disease outbreaks and coordinates national level efforts to counter them. The urgent response to disease outbreaks, like the this year's record-breaking flu, will continue without disruption.

However, federal investigations of new disease outbreaks – which are crucial to countering diseases before they become widespread in multiple states – will be substantially slower during the shutdown. It will also take longer for the CDC to disseminate crucial national public health information to hospitals and doctors, who often depend on this data to administer appropriate care at local levels.

The federal government also ensures the safety and well-being of Americans through food inspections, which keep contaminated meats, eggs, grains and other foodstuffs from making it to the consumer. Many of these inspections will continue without disruption.

Brain drain

While the law mandates that the essential personnel who protect life and property must remain at work, these government workers will not receive pay during the shutdown.

By law, essential personnel have to be reimbursed for their lost earnings once the government resumes full operations. But, in the short run, it changes how government workers can spend money and take care of their families. The government workers who were furloughed are not guaranteed any pay for the period they were locked out.

The public health sector, more so than many other aspects of the federal government, depends on highly educated and skilled employees with advanced degrees, such as medical doctors and researchers. Although government workers often make higher wages than they could in the private sector, that isn't true for those who are most skilled. Many public servants in public health take pay cuts to work for the federal government.

Friday's government shutdown is the second in just five years. With the disruption to the livelihoods of more than a million federal employees, it's understandable that some employees may seek employment in the private sector instead, leaving the federal government less capable in the future.

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