Shutdown postmortem: Economy takes $24B hit over self-inflicted crisis

Well the government is back in business. At least until January 15 when it's quite possible we will watch this nightmare play out once again.

For 16 days we watched Republicans and Democrats dig in their heels, bringing the country to a near economic catastrophe. All because of healthcare reform--a law passed in 2010 and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012--that provides more Americans with health insurance coverage, either through Medicaid or private insurance.

In the end--despite all the posturing and Republican demands to defund healthcare reform or delay it for a year--the Affordable Care Act remains in place. In essence, a fight that brings us back to where we started. Yet the damage the bickering caused will be felt for years. 

The shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion and reduced the projected fourth-quarter gross domestic product growth from three percent to two percent, according to an estimate from Standard & Poor's. And it has shaken consumer confidence to its very core.

"The short turnaround for politicians to negotiate some sort of lasting deal will likely weigh on consumer confidence, especially among government workers that were furloughed," Standard and Poor's said. "If people are afraid that the government policy brinkmanship will resurface again, and with it the risk of another shutdown or worse, they'll remain afraid to open up their checkbooks."

It's safe to say that one thing Republicans and Democrats can probably agree on: President Barack Obama was right Thursday when he said Americans are "fed up" with Washington over a "self-inflicted" crisis that set our economy back and hurt the country's credibility overseas.

Happily, the 800,000 non-essential government employees are back to work. That means the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention--which lost two-thirds of its 13,000 staff due to the shutdown--can return to its role of detecting and responding to new and emerging health threats. And it couldn't come soon enough for Thomas R. Frieden, M.D., director of the CDC, who spoke to Wired on Day 15 of the shutdown.

At the time of the Wired interview, Frieden said the CDC's skeletal crew was responding to an outbreak of Legionella in Alabama, an outbreak of tuberculosis in another state, an investigation of a fatal case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever on an American Indian Reservation in Arizona, a healthcare-associated infection outbreak in Baltimore, a cluster of meningitis in a university in the northeast, and an outbreak of Hepatitis B. It was a situation he described as "like juggling chainsaws."

But that's just what the CDC knew about at the time. "For every day of government shutdown, about one million emails at CDC go unread--millions of pieces of information," he said.

So the 9,000 CDC employees who returned to work Thursday are sorting through 16 million emails--and getting back in the business of finding, stopping and preventing health problems across the country. At least until January 15. - Ilene (@FierceHealth)

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