What SNFs Can Expect During a Government Shutdown

Though the federal government officially shut down early Saturday morning, skilled nursing and other long-term care operators have little reason to worry about reimbursements — at least for the time being.

Medicare and Veterans Affairs-related reimbursements must continue even if the government suspends discretionary spending, as these programs are mandatory. In addition, because state governments are responsible for managing the Medicaid program and receive funding on a quarterly basis, Medicaid reimbursements are unlikely to be affected in the short term.

However, LeadingAge and other groups that represent providers caution that issues could arise if the shutdown drags on for an extended period of time, or if assistance from government officials is required during the stoppage.

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For instance, non-essential government employees will be forced to take unpaid furlough days, leaving a large swath of positions unstaffed for the duration of the shutdown. These homebound workers can’t do their jobs even if they wanted to: Rules prevent them from entering their workplaces or performing their jobs remotely, according to LeadingAge.

“As of today, we have not received updated guidance from HHS or CMS about what to expect during a potential government shutdown,” American Health Care Association senior vice president Beth Martino told Skilled Nursing News via e-mail. “Funding for Medicare and Medicaid is mandatory, meaning it is not subject to annual appropriations that lapse during a shutdown.”

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Friday that it would furlough just about half of its employees, with 40,959 forced into unpaid vacation and 40,956 remaining onboard throughout the process. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, meanwhile, would operate largely as normal, HHS said.

“In the short term, the Medicare Program will continue largely without disruption during a lapse in appropriations. Additionally, other non-distrectionary activities, including Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control, and Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation activities would continue,” the department’s website read Friday afternoon.

HHS also confirmed that state Medicaid programs will be funded through the end of the second quarter.

This is consistent with past government shutdowns, the most recent of which came in 2013 and lasted 16 days from October 1 to October 17.

“Based on what we have experienced in the past, if the federal government is forced to shut down, payments for Medicare services and other mandatory programs would continue, but possibly at a slower rate if the shutdown is long term,” Martino said.

Written by Alex Spanko