The End of the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration and Its Consequences for Access to Care
The Biden administration recently announced that the COVID-19 national emergency will end on May 11, 2023, along with the requirement to extend various benefit plan deadlines due to the pandemic. This decision has sparked worry among many, as thousands of Americans still die of COVID each week, and the ending of the public health emergency may have dire consequences on how people access care to prevent and treat the virus.
The end of the emergency declaration will affect how Americans access free COVID-19 tests, vaccines, and treatments. Vaccines will still be free for everyone, regardless of insurance status, as long as federal supplies last. However, private health plans and Medicare will no longer be required to cover the full cost of in-person or at-home COVID tests. People with private plans may have to pay a copay or only go to certain health care providers. People on Medicaid, and Medicare will have to pay out-of-pocket costs for over-the-counter home Covid-19 tests and treatment.
Uninsured people have been left vulnerable since last spring, and will have to pay for the tests, treatments, and vaccines. The US government has provided a limited supply of free COVID tests through the mail, but this source may not be available much longer.
States and territories have received Medicaid waivers and other flexibilities during the public health emergency, some of which will be terminated. However, state Medicaid programs will have to continue covering Covid-19 testing, treatments, and vaccinations without cost-sharing through September 30, 2024.
Expanded telehealth through Medicare will remain in place through December 2024 under federal spending legislation passed in December. Generally, private plans will maintain control over which telehealth services they provide coverage for.
The administration is expected to release a roadmap for transitioning out of the three-year-old U.S. pandemic public health emergency soon, in order to lay out for the public in a clear way what the end of the declaration “does and does not mean” for various stakeholders. While President Joe Biden reiterated in his State of the Union address that the country will end the Covid-19 emergency declaration in May this year, he also said that the government still needs “to monitor dozens of variants and support new vaccines and treatments.
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