People walk past a walk-in COVID-19 testing site on July 28, 2022 in New York City.
Liao Pan | China Information Service | Getty Images
The Department of Health and Human Services explained on Thursday what will change and stay the same when the three-year Covid public health emergency comes to an end in May.
Health Secretary Xavier Becerra formally notified state governors on Thursday that he was renewing the declaration one last time but planned to let the emergency expire on May 11. The White House had already informed Congress of these plans last week.
HHS officials on a call with reporters explained what the public can expect when the emergency ends.
- People with private health insurance may have to pay for Covid tests, both over the counter and in the lab, depending on their plan.
- Seniors with Medicare Part B will start paying for over-the-counter tests, although the program covers lab tests.
- Hospitals will lose the flexibility to increase capacity in response to surges.
- The federal government can no longer require labs to report Covid test results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Longer term changes
- Covid vaccines and antivirals such as Paxlovid will remain free to everyone, regardless of insurance status, until the current federal stock is exhausted.
- Extended telehealth through Medicare will also remain in place through December 2024 under federal spending legislation passed in December. But it will end after that without congressional intervention.
The Food and Drug Administration will still have the power to quickly authorize Covid vaccines, tests and treatments through its separate emergency powers.
Millions of people are also at risk of losing their health insurance through Medicaid this year, as federal protections that protected people during the pandemic end. These protections were once tied to the public health emergency, but Congress then decided to phase them out separately.
In short, states can start kicking people out of Medicaid as early as April if they no longer meet the eligibility requirements for the public health insurance program. HHS plans to open a special enrollment period so these people can apply for coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
Although Covid vaccines and treatments will remain free for all after the public health emergency ends, that could change for uninsured adults when the federal stock runs out.
The Biden administration plans to stop buying vaccines and treatments for the public as early as this fall, in part because Congress has failed to allocate additional funds. When the federal government steps down, vaccines and treatments will be purchased and distributed on the private market.
This means Pfizer And Modern will sell vaccines directly to health care providers and whether you pay will depend on your insurance or not.
People insured through the Affordable Care Act and Medicare will still receive vaccines for free. Those on Medicaid will get the shots free until September 2024, after which coverage will vary by state.
Uninsured adults will likely have to pay for vaccines when supplies run out, though the White House has said it is drawing up plans to help them.
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