The health emergency from Covid-19 is about to end

The health emergency from Covid-19 is about to end

At the first hint of a sore throat or cold, my instinct is to take a rapid test for Covid-19, especially if I’ll be around other people. It helps me to have a large supply of free Covid tests thanks to a fed public health emergency (PHE) requirement that health insurers pay for them.

My caution may seem excessive for the almost half of Americans who believe the pandemic is already over, but think one can never be too careful — and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends getting tested if you have symptoms or are exposed to someone with Covid.

Soon, however, the emergency phase of the pandemic will officially be over. In January 2023, the Biden administration announced that the federal PHE would will end on May 11, 2023, after more than three years. Whether you still worry about Covid or have long considered it history, the end of PHE means much more than just the end of free rapid tests.

What does the end of the health emergency mean for healthcare?

A PHE is generally defined as any widespread, imminent, man-made or natural threat to the health of the population. During the Covid-19 pandemic, states and the federal government declared official PHEs, which gave them certain powers to respond to public health threats.

At the federal level, the PHE designation increased funding for disease treatment and prevention and allowed government agencies to relax some rules. Some of the PHE rules we’ve all become accustomed to will last a little longer or become permanent. However, many will finish in May together with the PHE.

Here are some of the changes you can expect as the PHE comes to an end.

1. Covid tests may no longer be free

Once the PHE ends, private insurance companies will no longer have to pay for Covid testing, either over the counter or at a testing site. They may choose to continue covering these benefits on their own.

People with health care part B they will no longer receive free over-the-counter rapid tests, but will have coverage for Covid testing when a healthcare provider (HCP) orders it.

People up medical help will still have some time to get the free trial. States will cover the cost of Covid testing for people enrolled Medicaid through September 30, 2024. Later, some states may choose to continue covering Covid testing, but they won’t have to.

Once people have to pay out-of-pocket for rapid tests and Covid test payments ordered by a healthcare professional, people are not likely to get tested as often. With less testing and fewer reporting requirements, we may not know when the virus will start spreading more widely.

“This is something that should be monitored,” said Laurie Zephyrin, MD, MPH, MBA, senior vice president for Advancing Health Equity at The Commonwealth Fund and clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone School of Medicine.

People with weakened immune systems, who are already at higher risk, will be vulnerable if infections rise in the community around them.

2. Rules on free Covid vaccines will change

When PHE ends, there will no longer be a mandate in place requiring Covid vaccines to be free. However, people with private insurance should be able to get vaccinated without co-payments under the preventive care requirements of the Affordable Care Act. And, according to what vaccine manufacturers they’re saying now, vaccines could continue to be free for the uninsured.

3. Covid treatments should stay the same

In general, the end of the PHE will do don’t change the way people can access Covid carewhich are especially important for immunocompromised people who are at increased risk of serious illness and death.

Read “Are you at high risk of serious illness from Covid-19?” >>

4. Access to telehealth may become more difficult

The use of telehealth has exploded during the pandemic out of necessity. It has also helped the government relax some telehealth rules. For example, healthcare professionals have been allowed to conduct telehealth visits across state lines. After PHE ends, it will be up to state licensing agencies to decide whether to continue to allow it.

Another thing that made telehealth easier during PHE was the ability to see a healthcare provider on a smartphone or video conferencing app. Many more healthcare providers have begun offering telehealth services because the US Department of Health and Human Services has waived potential penalties for failing to use technology that specifically meets strict privacy regulations. This waiver will terminate with the end of the PHE. Some healthcare providers may be less willing to offer telehealth when the old rules return.

During the pandemic, healthcare professionals have been allowed to prescribe certain medications, such as controlled substances including steroids and stimulants, remotely. New rules could extend those flexibilities, but there is no guarantee once the PHE ends.

5. Many people could lose their health insurance

Typically, people on Medicaid must regularly prove that they are still eligible or risk being deregistered. But, early on in the pandemic, Congress required state Medicaid programs, which cover 92.3 million Americans – to keep people continuously enrolled in coverage until the end of the PHE. Congress later continuous membership rules separate from the PHEthen states can already begin verifying people’s eligibility for Medicaid. Kaiser Family Foundation it estimates that up to 14 million people could lose coverage as a result.

Even if you don’t have Medicaid coverage, as more people lose benefits, hospitals and health care providers who rely on insurance reimbursement may face financial hardship, and more people across the country will struggle to access the care they need.

As my stockpile of Covid tests dwindles, I know it marks a positive, if symbolic, milestone: the official end of the emergency phase of the pandemic. But I also know that for millions of Americans, including the immunocompromised and those at risk of losing Medicaid coverage, there may still be challenges.

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