U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill ending the COVID-19 national emergency weeks before it was set to expire, with a public health emergency (PHE) still remains in place until May 11. It marks the winding down of several policies and provisions put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Ending the national emergency over COVID-19 is also symbolic of transitioning from one phase of the pandemic response to another. The new phase is focused on providing long-term, sustainable support for states addressing the challenges that stem from the pandemic, rather than an emergency response.
The public health emergency created emergency procedures within healthcare systems, as well as blanket waivers in federal health coverage programs. “Any existing waivers currently in effect and authorized under the 1135 waiver authorization for the pandemic will remain in place until the end of the (May 11) federal PHE for COVID-19.” a representative of the Department of Health and Human Services said in an email to UPI.
While most telehealth services will remain untouched, the public health emergency created a waiver to allow more types of healthcare professionals, such as physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists, to provide telehealth services.
Over-the-counter COVID-19 tests will no longer be free for Medicare Plan B recipients. Private insurance companies will no longer be required to cover the costs of COVID-19 tests without cost-sharing plans. However, HHS is encouraging insurance companies to continue offering this service. State Medicaid must continue offering cost-sharing for tests for a year after the end of the emergency.
After May 11, Most people will still have access to COVID-19 vaccines without paying out-of-pocket costs. Medicaid will continue to cover the cost of vaccines until Sept. 30, 2024.
The CDC reports 120,820 new cases, 1,773 new deaths and 1,956 new hospital admissions related to COVID-19 in the last week and 10,480 people are hospitalized with infection. More than 1.12 million COVID-19 deaths have been recorded in the United States throughout the pandemic.
John Swartzberg, clinical professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health, writes that low-income patients will be the most negatively affected by ending waivers for Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP, and that nearly everyone will be impacted with what he believes will be a lack of easy and inexpensive access to testing.
“If a new variant that is more transmissible and virulent causes a new surge, we’re going to regret the abdication of governmental and personal responsibility that were keys to saving lives,” he adds. “If things continue to smolder as they are now, this will be our new normal,” Swartzberg adds.
“In the last two weeks, we averaged nearly 1,800 deaths per week due to COVID. This translates to 93,600 deaths in a year. An average number of deaths from influenza is about 25,000; a very bad year would be about 60,000. Should we be accepting that number?”