The government shutdown is forcing employees to ration and fundraise for medication, or put their health at risk

In various media reports, federal workers have said they are struggling to afford healthcare. Natalie Behring/Getty Images
  • Approximately 800,000 federal employees are working without pay during the partial government shutdown that began December 22.
  • In media reports, some workers have described struggles to afford medication and worries about the costs of health care.
  • Some have even said they are postponing care or rationing medication like insulin.

About 800,000 US government employees are going without pay during the partial government shutdown that started December 22. And as the shutdown drags on, some workers have said they can’t afford – and are even postponing – necessary healthcare.

In multiple media reports, government employees have described difficulty affording medications for conditions like diabetes and epilepsy. Others have noted that they can’t properly care for their children. Some have chosen to postpone testing and care over financial worries, and others have turned to crowdfunding as a way to drum up healthcare funds.

Although Kaiser Health noted that federal employees affected by the shutdown won’t lose their health insurance, health care costs like co-pays can still add up when there are no paychecks coming in.

Read more: The government shutdown is forcing millions of Americans to stretch their monthly food benefits to the limit

Since the shutdown began near the start of the year (the same time when health insurance resets), many workers who aren’t getting paychecks may also have to pay their plan’s full deductible before insurance kicks in to cover medical costs, as PBS News Hour pointed out.

Some workers have said they’re struggling to afford medicine

In several media reports, government workers have described struggles with affording medication.

One IRS worker (identified by his middle name, Leo) told CNBC in early January that he couldn’t afford his $US200 insulin prescription and expected that he’d have to use his credit card to purchase it.

Federal worker Kings Floyd told DCist that, after the first week of the shutdown, she realised she wouldn’t be able to afford both her epilepsy medication and her other monthly expenses. She ended up off the medication for four days.

“It wiped me out,” Floyd told DCist. “It was a headache like you could not imagine, blurry vision, you cannot think in a straight line.” She ultimately got access to the medication by overdrawing from her bank account.

In a CNBC report published Wednesday, Jazz Sexton, another IRS employee, said she was hired in late 2018 and that her insurance was still being processed when the government shut down, leaving her without coverage. She told CNBC she couldn’t afford the $US1,000 out-of-pocket-cost for her antidepressant, so instead she weaned herself off of the medication.

Families of federal workers have been impacted, too

In an interview with Money, Jo Ann Goodlow, 48, a worker for the Bureau of Land Management, said that because of the shutdown she can’t afford an oral surgery her for 17-year-old son, whose wisdom teeth are growing in sideways and causing him pain. Instead, Goodlow said she bought her son a medicated mouth wash, hoping to address his symptoms while waiting for the shutdown to end.

“Because I don’t want to incur the copayment, I spent $US8 on this mouthwash,” Goodlow told Money. “I shouldn’t have to feel that way … I should be able to take my kids to the doctor when they get sick.”

Yvette Hicks, another mother and a security officer for the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, spoke during a public roundtable about the effects of the shutdown, CNN reported Tuesday. She said that, due to cost concerns, she’s had to space out her two children’s nebulizer treatments for asthma.

US Forest Service employee Ted Geier told Money that he recently had a knee surgery to treat an injury that occurred at work. He said he was worried he would have to pay for the surgery since the HR employees who could help him get workman’s comp approved are also not working due to the shutdown.

But Geier’s wife, Cathy, was also affected. According to Money’s report, she postponed an ultrasound to check for ovarian cancer after a relative was diagnosed with the disease in December.

“I have put off having this done because I don’t know where the money’s going to come from,” she told Money.

One worker said she was forced to ration insulin

US Fish and Wildlife Service employee Mallory Lorge, who has type 1 diabetes, appeared on “Anderson Cooper 360” last week and said she started rationing her insulin – a hormone that all people with type 1 diabetes must take in order to stay alive.

“This last weekend, I didn’t use my insulin pump at all,” Lorge said. “I just took it off cause I was so frightened about what little insulin we did have left, and we couldn’t afford the $US300 co-pay to buy any more.”
In a separate interview with People, Lorge described one night in early January when her blood sugar rose to a “dangerously high” level.

“I knew I couldn’t afford an ambulance ride, I couldn’t afford to be in the emergency room,” Lorge told People. “I said I am going to bed and I hope I wake up. “

Lorge told Cooper that people in her online diabetic community offered to send her extra insulin. She also set up a GoFundMe campaign that has raised more than $US3,000 at the time of this post.

Other federal workers have set up GoFundMe accounts to raise money for medical and living expenses, too, though this may get them in legal trouble.

Read more: GoFundMe campaigns to help furloughed federal employees pay their bills during government shutdown may now be in legal trouble

A legal expert told CNN that the fundraising campaigns could violate a law that says government employees are not supposed to supplement their pay with outside income. Right now, the report added, the government office that could clarify the issue is also closed due to the shutdown.


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