On May 11, the public health emergency declared for the coronavirus pandemic expires.
The declaration of emergency began in 2020, followed by various other legislative and administrative actions, which allowed the federal government to waive or change the rules and expand the health care system’s ability to provide care and coverage to all Americans during the worst pandemic in more than a century. Experts agree that given the current state of the pandemic, this expanded capacity and coverage is no longer necessary. Some policies will end immediately and others will be phased out over time.
Stacker has identified some of the key health policies applicable to the general public that will be affected by the end of the public health emergency. To learn more about how specific health insurance waivers and other flexibilities allowed by the COVID-19 emergency declaration will be affected, see the factsheet from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The tests will change
Free home testing will no longer be available through the government’s COVID-19 website after May; however, people who are uninsured will still be able to get tested for free through the CDC’s Increasing Community Access to Testing program.
During the public health emergency, insurers were required to reimburse up to eight antigen tests per person each month. After May 11, Americans with traditional Medicare or private insurance will not be guaranteed free home tests, although some insurers may continue to cover them voluntarily. While PCR tests ordered by healthcare providers will still be covered by most insurance plans, there may be a cost-sharing component for some people.
Rapid tests will continue to be covered for people enrolled in Medicaid or the children’s health insurance program through September 30, 2024, after which states may limit the number of tests provided or impose cost-sharing policies.
Uninsured people in states and territories that have adopted temporary Medicaid coverage will no longer be able to receive free coronavirus testing services after May 11. Home testing may still be available at free health clinics, community health centers, public health departments, or other organizations for people who can’t afford it. The cost for a box containing two tests is about $25.
Vaccination will not change
Vaccines will remain free for everyone as long as federally purchased vaccines last. Providers of federally purchased vaccines cannot charge patients or deny vaccines based on insurance status.
Even after federal vaccine supplies run out, likely in the fall, vaccines will continue to be free for the vast majority of policyholders. However, private insurers will no longer be required to reimburse out-of-network vaccinations. The Biden administration also announced a $1.1 billion program to ensure access to vaccines and treatment through December 2024 for the uninsured.
Treatment costs will change
The US government still has stockpiles of COVID-19 antiviral treatments such as Paxlovid. Physicians who administer federally acquired treatments must provide them free to people regardless of their insurance status.
When the federal supply of treatments runs out, manufacturers will set drug prices, and the price people pay for the drug will depend on their insurance. Those not on Medicaid will likely pay out of pocket just as they would for other prescription drugs. People with Medicaid will continue to have access to free Covid-19 treatments until September 30, 2024.
All FDA-cleared medicines used to treat COVID-19 will be covered under Medicare Part D, affecting just under 50 million older Americans.
Telehealth and virtual care probably won’t change
The core flexibilities of telehealth will likely not be affected. Most of Medicare’s current telehealth flexibilities used during the public health emergency, especially by patients in rural areas or with a health care shortage, will remain in effect through December 2024. Waivers and provisions that allow high-deductible health plans of offering telehealth before patients reach their deductible will remain in place.
During the public health emergency, HHS has temporarily waived penalties for telehealth service providers who use technology that does not comply with federal privacy and security regulations. After May 11, telehealth services will be limited to “HIPAA compliant” technologies.
Data communication and surveillance will change
In recent years, medical laboratories have been charged with reporting the results of coronavirus testing and vaccine administration to the CDC, which has helped assess the severity of the pandemic nationwide. This laboratory reporting obligation expires with the public health emergency.
Hospitals will continue to report data, but on a more limited scale. Reporting of positive test results, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients and the stock of some medical supplies will continue through the end of April 2024.
Emergency use permissions will not change
The FDA’s ability to authorize products, including tests, treatments or vaccines for emergency use, will not be affected by the end of the public health emergency.
Additionally, the agency’s ability to use emergency authorizations in the future will not be affected, even for an updated coronavirus vaccine likely to be used in the fall.
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