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Medicare, Medicaid, Health Insurance Marketplace to continue operating amid government shutdown

CDC, NIH see reduced activity as HHS furloughs more than half of staff

NEW YORK — The Department of Health and Human Services will furlough more than half of its employees due to the government shutdown, the agency said.

In announcing a contingency staffing plan for the shutdown, which started Tuesday when Congress failed to pass a budget in time, HHS said 52% of its employees would be on furlough, totaling 40,512 members of its staff. The remaining 48%, or 37,686 employees, would remain. The scheduled introduction of the health insurance exchanges mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will also continue.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services will "continue large portions of ACA activities," and Medicare will continue largely without disruption. Meanwhile, due to the advanced appropriation enacted in the fiscal year 2013 appropriations legislation, states will continue to have funding for Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program.

The Food and Drug Administration will continue "limited" activities related to user fee-funded programs and such vital activities as consumer protection and high-risk recalls. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will continue minimal support for protecting health of U.S. citizens here and abroad, while the National Institutes of Health will continue to care for current NIH Clinical Center patients and some other services.

Nevertheless, the CDC will not be able to support the annual seasonal influenza program, outbreak detection or linking across states using genetic and molecular analysis, and the NIH will not be able to admit most new patients.

On Tuesday, HHS announced the opening of the exchanges, officially known as the Health Insurance Marketplace, without mentioning the shutdown. Coverage begins as early as Jan. 1, 2014 for people who enroll by Dec. 15.

"For years, the financial, physical or mental health of millions of Americans suffered because they couldn't afford the care they or their family needed," HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. "But thanks to the healthcare law, all of that is changing. Today's launch begins a new day when healthcare coverage will be more accessible and affordable than ever before."

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