On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will allow the federal public health emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, but not everyone sees it as cause for celebration. HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra had extended the state of emergency for 90 days in February, signaling at the time that this would be the last extension.
A month after President Biden signed into law a Republican-backed bill repealing a separate national COVID emergency declared by President Trump in March 2020, and six days after the World Health Organization declared the global COVID health emergency over, it seems breaking news the capstone of building a consensus that COVID-19 is no longer a crisis.
But every week, more than 1,000 Americans are still dying from COVID, and countless others are developing debilitating, long-lasting COVID, so disability advocates argue it’s dangerous and irresponsible to drop protections associated with the public health emergency. to expire.
“We called the fire department while the house was still on fire because the neighbors want it over,” said Laurie Jones, executive director of #MEAction, an organization that advocates for people with myalgic encephalomyelitis, a chronic fatigue condition. that develops a high proportion of long-term COVID patients, in a press conference on Wednesday.
Here’s a guide to what the due date means and what some say shouldn’t be forgotten.
What had already changed
The national emergency that ended last month had given the federal government a wide range of powers over the economy. For example, it gave the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) the ability to create the COVID-19 Mortgage Tolerance Program. That program expires at the end of May, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has returned to requiring home visits to determine eligibility for a program that pays home caregivers.
What will change now
The public health emergency that ended May 11 allowed the federal government to freely provide COVID-19 tests, treatments like Paxlovid, and vaccines. Americans with Medicare or private insurance plans have been able to get up to eight COVID tests per month at pharmacies without a copay. (Medicaid rules varied by state.) Therapeutic treatments such as monoclonal antibodies are fully covered by Medicare and Medicaid.
That’s all going to change. Medicare beneficiaries will now have to pay a portion of the cost of at-home COVID testing and for COVID treatments. Essentially, COVID is covered in the same way as other conditions. People with Medicaid coverage will get free vaccines and COVID tests at a doctor’s request, but they will have to pay out of pocket for home tests. Those with private insurance may need to pay for tests, even if ordered by a doctor, and for COVID treatments.
“People are going to have to start paying some money for things they didn’t have to pay for during the emergency,” Jen Kates, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNN when the May 11 deadline was first announced. “That’s the main thing that people are going to notice.”
Testing will remain free until government-purchased stock runs out.
There will also be less extensive tracking of the spread of COVID-19. Infections are no longer monitored, only hospitalizations, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) no longer provides a color-coded assessment of COVID-19 severity in each province.
Perhaps most controversially, Title 42, a Trump-era piece of the public health emergency that allowed the US to quickly remove migrants, will expire. Officials expect another wave of migrants at the southern border. In response, Republicans in Congress are pushing for a bill to bring back some of Trump’s immigration policies, including building a border wall.
What doesn’t change
Vaccines remain free for anyone with health insurance because of federal laws, including the Affordable Care Act and pandemic aid bills.
For those without insurance, all of these benefits have already become expensive as federal funds for free COVID-related health care for the uninsured ran out late last year.
What is apart from the emergency
A March 2020 COVID relief bill prohibited states from removing anyone from Medicaid during the public health emergency, but Congress already reversed that last year, with states cutting Medicaid coverage as of April 1 this year. could withdraw. Millions of people, including an estimated 6.7 million children, could lose coverage as a result.
Food stamp benefits were also increased as part of a 2020 emergency measure, but it expired in March.
The expanded access to telehealth created during the public health emergency will be maintained separately until the end of 2024.
What high-risk populations may still need
Many people with disabilities are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing severe symptoms because of previous conditions such as a weakened immune system. Disability advocates are concerned that some people are unable to protect themselves without free access to tests and treatment. They note that free access could be expanded through separate legislation rather than an extension of the emergency.
To protect those most vulnerable to infection, disability rights activists argue that mask mandates should still be in place in healthcare facilities — though that’s administered at the state level — and that the CDC should still track COVID numbers so people can make informed decisions about how much to do publicly.
“The pressure to end public health [emergency] was huge, but it didn’t have to be an either/or situation,” Jones said Wednesday. “It can be both/and. We could have helped people re-enter the world while still masking in hospital settings, track COVID numbers and alert people to spikes in their area. We could still offer free testing and free treatment.”
Some public health experts agree, warning that new variants of the coronavirus may prove to be more transmissible or more deadly. “The need for active management of the virus remains. Many thought the pandemic would be over in the spring of 2021,” Julia Raifman, a professor of public health at Boston University, told Yahoo News in April. “Unfortunately, we were not prepared for new variants and we lost hundreds of thousands of lives in the following months. By actively monitoring COVID, continuing the work to help people get vaccinated and incentivized, and having policies and supplies in place to address new variants, we can ensure that we don’t experience such high rates again. avoid seeing toll.