The Federal Government Shutdown’s Impact on People with Cancer

October 4, 2013

On Tuesday, October 1, the federal government began a partial shutdown after Congress became gridlocked over funding for the government and its activities for the new budget year (which started that day).

As we noted then, the shutdown does not affect Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.  These programs will continue during the shutdown.  In addition, the state health insurance marketplaces/exchanges are open for business to help people enroll for health insurance, as required by the health care reform law.

However, in addition to the closure of all national parks, and halting of several important government functions including the seasonal flu program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to name just one, the shutdown does affect some key programs that are important to people with cancer.  And that impact will increase if the shutdown continues.

For example, the National Cancer Institute’s Cancer Information Service is closed during the shutdown, which limits the public’s access to free, reliable information (via phone, email or web chat) about cancer, treatments, clinical trials, prevention and other important topics.

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center  – where about 1,500 clinical research trials are in progress and 10,000 patients are treated each year – all current patients will receive care and current trials will continue.  However, no new patients will be accepted (unless deemed medically necessary).  Also, no new clinical trials will begin and no applications for research grants will be considered while the government is shut down.

As the shutdown plan for NIH stated, “In general, individuals enroll in inpatient and outpatient investigational procedures at the NIH Clinical Center only when standard medical treatments have failed, and other treatment options are not available. As a result, they have no other alternatives.”

And as the Director of the NIH, Francis Collins, told the Wall Street Journal, this means that up to 200 patients (with various diseases) each week that would normally access care at the clinical center will be unable to get care there.  Of these 200 patients, 30 of them are children, most of them children with cancer.

NIH also funds clinical research studies at hospitals across the country through grants.  That entire grant program is halted during the shutdown, which means universities and medical centers across the country may be unable to continue important research or enroll patients in new clinical trials.

In terms of medications – an area of great concern to people with cancer – the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will be able to respond to emergencies and other critical public health issues, but routine activities such as inspections, monitoring of imported drugs from overseas, and laboratory research that helps support the FDA’s activities will all be stopped during the shutdown.  If the shutdown continues, drug safety issues could arise.

So what can you do during this time of uncertainty?

First, know that if you have questions regarding your own cancer journey, you are encouraged to call CSC’s Cancer Support Helpline at 1-888-793-9355. We are ready to answer your call.

Next, make your voice heard.  Email or call your Members of Congress to urge them to resolve the budget dispute and end the shutdown.

Finally, if you have a story about how the shutdown has impacted you, please share that with us at

CSC will continue to monitor the effects of the federal government shutdown on people impacted by cancer and will provide updates as necessary.