US Covid Emergency to End in May
Health Care

US Covid Emergency to End in May

President Joe Biden plans to end the emergency federal response to Covid-19 on May 11, the White House told Congress Monday evening, as public health officials shift toward treating the viral infection as a seasonal illness.

The Office of Management and Budget said that two emergencies declared by the Trump administration early in 2020 – the Covid-19 national emergency set to expire on March 1 and the public health emergency (PHE) set to expire on April 11 – would be coming to an end. “At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date,” OMB said in a statement. “This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE.”

The White House criticized Republican demands to end the health emergency immediately, saying that the health care system needs time to adjust as it returns to pre-Covid rules and regulations. “[A]n abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” OMB said.

The emergency declaration allowed millions of people to remain on Medicaid as states were barred from removing beneficiaries, while billions in extra funds were provided to care for Covid patients. The emergency touched private insurers and medical service providers, as well, and the cost of many medical goods and services was reduced following the emergency declarations. Starting in May, much of that will change.

“People will have to start paying some money for things they didn’t have to pay for during the emergency,” Jen Kates of the Kaiser Family Foundation told CNN. “That’s the main thing people will start to notice.”

The details of what will change are complex. Some Medicare and Medicaid participants will face out-of-pocket costs for at-home Covid testing and all treatments, but vaccines will remain free. Those with private insurance will face a variety of possible new charges, including for vaccines and care delivered by out-of-network providers. Those without insurance, who had been able to access free vaccines, testing and treatment during the pandemic, have already started paying again for many of those services, since federal funding ran out last spring.

In addition, hospitals will lose a 20% boost to the Medicare payment rate for treating Covid patients, while Medicare Advantage plans will once again be allowed to charge Covid patients for out-of-network care.

The biggest change may be seen in Medicaid enrollment. About 15 million people could lose their Medicaid health coverage as states reduce their enrollment levels. Some of those may qualify for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, but millions are expected to lose coverage entirely.

The end of the national emergency will also end the use of Title 42 policy at the border, OMB said. Title 42 allows the federal government to deport migrants rapidly due to health concerns, and its use has been subject to litigation that will be rendered moot after May 11.