A number of Americans will soon have to pay for COVID-19 testing and treatment after the Biden administration signaled the end of the pandemic public health emergency.
The White House issued a statement Monday announcing it will oppose House GOP-backed bills to end the pandemic-related emergencies, but it stated that the emergency and public health emergency would instead end on May 11.
“The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020,” the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement (pdf). “They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date. This wind-down would align with the administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the [public health emergency].”
After the public health declaration was made in early 2020, the government provided free tests, vaccines, and treatments for COVID-19.
“People will have to start paying some money for things they didn’t have to pay for during the emergency,” Jen Kates, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told CNN. “That’s the main thing people will start to notice.”
The government has been paying for COVID-19 vaccines, some tests, and certain treatments under the public health emergency declaration. When it expires, those costs will be transferred to private insurance and government health plans.
The White House will transfer COVID-19 vaccines to the private market soon, although it’s not clear when. It means that the cost of vaccines could surge by many times and would be covered by recipients’ insurance policies instead of the federal government.
Both Pfizer and Moderna, the manufacturers of two common mRNA vaccines, have said they might charge upwards of $130 per dose of the vaccine. That’s about four times what the federal government pays currently.
“People with private insurance who receive COVID-19 vaccines, including booster doses, from out-of-network providers could incur out-of-pocket costs when the federally purchased supply of vaccines is depleted,” Kaiser wrote in an update on its website earlier this month.
The health emergency rule’s expiration will also end directives, known as Title 42, that expel illegal immigrants from Nicaragua, Cuba, and Haiti caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border back to Mexico, OMB said.
Kaiser says that there are a number of changes that will occur when the emergency expires.
“There are numerous implications to ending these emergency declarations, each of which gave the federal government flexibilities to waive or modify certain requirements in a range of areas, including in the Medicare, Medicaid, and [Children’s Health Insurance Program] programs, and in private health insurance, as well as to allow for the authorization of medical countermeasures and to provide liability immunity to providers who administer services, among other things,” Kaiser says on its website, which details possible changes that will be enacted after the emergency is rescinded.
For example, the millions of people who “have received free COVID-19 testing and testing-related services, certain treatments, and vaccines” may not be able to get those services, the group said last week.
Medicaid Coverage Gone
Some people enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program will lose their coverage after the emergency ends. Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) enrollment increased 26 percent to more than 89 million people as of June 2022, Medicaid officials said last year.
Some 15 million people have to leave those programs, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, noting that some 7 million will lose Medicaid coverage.
Pandemic-related rules allowed for the “continuous enrollment requirement contributed to Medicaid enrollment growth of 27.9 percent between February 2020 and September 2022,” Kaiser noted. The group now “estimates that between 5 and 14 million people could lose Medicaid coverage when the continuous enrollment provision ends. CMS guidance emphasizes promoting continuity of coverage and avoiding inappropriate coverage terminations as states unwind the continuous enrollment provision,” according to its website.
People with private insurance could face charges for lab tests, it noted, even if it’s given by a provider. Vaccinations will be free for individuals with private insurers, but if they go outside of their network, they could incur charges.
Doesn’t Impact EUAs?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told reporters that the end of the COVID-19 health emergency has no impact on emergency use authorizations for drugs.
“The ending of the public health emergency declared by HHS under the Public Health Service Act will not impact FDA’s ability to authorize devices (including tests), treatments or vaccines for emergency use,” the agency said on Tuesday. “Existing emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for products will remain in effect and the agency may continue to issue new EUAs going forward when criteria for issuance are met.”
Reuters contributed to this report.