Many thanks to Dr Lesley Russell, Senior Research Fellow, Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute, Australian National University for these insights into the current ‘shenanigans’ in the US.
The failure of the US Congress to agree on a federal budget because a small band of conservative Republicans insist that the budget legislation is linked to efforts to defund and halt Obamacare has led to a shutdown of the US government. Some 800,000 federal workers are furloughed and more than a million others are working without pay.
Many Australians are totally bemused by the irrational attitudes of Republican Congressional lawmakers to fiscal responsibility and healthcare reform. There are three reasons why this is the height of irony:
- Shutting down the government does not shut down Obamacare.
- The shenanigans have provided the Obama Administration with more publicity than they could ever have otherwise acquired for the launch of the state-based insurance exchanges on October 1.
- This publicity has driven people to the websites for information and enrolment in unanticipated numbers, causing many systems to crash. But the government shutdown provides the perfect excuse for these failures, which are thus not seen as problems linked to the new healthcare reforms.
For example, on Day 1 the HealthCare.gov website had a rocky start with 4.7 million visitors, 190,000 calls and extreme delays. In Kentucky (home state of Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, both of whom hate Obamacare with a passion), the exchange had 88,000 hits, 1 million page views, and 4,746 people / families enrolled.
Indeed, Senator Ted Cruz and his Tea Party confederates are right to be worried that once Obamacare is fully implemented, Americans are going to like it and that will ensure it is never repealed.
However, if the government shutdown continues for much beyond a week (and that is very possible) then the consequences really start to bite, not just in the US but even here in Australia. Here are some of the ways that Croakey blog readers might be impacted.
Government data and library websites are already in various stages of operation and none is being updated. Pew Research has compiled a list of some of the data sites affected, available here. These include: The Bureau of Statistics, The Census Bureau, The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Centers for Disease Control, and the National Center for Health Statistics. Library sites including the Library of Congress, The National Library of Medicine and PubMed are affected.
Most federal government researchers have been deemed non-essential. This means that NIH research grants are not being reviewed, federal research funds are not flowing, and anyone who has been asked to review a paper or a grant probably can’t do that while on furlough as they cannot access government-provided cell phones and computers.
If you have an upcoming trip to the US, then visas are still being provided (because these are funded by fees) although there may be delays. There will also likely be increased delays at airport security screening and immigration. And of course all the national parks and federally funded museums are closed.