On May 11, for the first time since the epidemic began three years ago, the United States will no longer be officially in a COVID-19 emergency.
While hundreds of COVID-19 deaths are still reported each day in the United States, bringing the total to over one million, public health experts believe the Biden administration will likely seek to end the national and public health emergencies related to COVID-19 because the omicron subvariants that are circulating produce milder disease and the United States has high levels of immunity from previous vaccinations or infections.
Due to testing, treatments, and vaccinations, the threat of the virus has diminished for many Americans. Jen Kates of the nonpartisan, charitable Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) described the end of the emergency as “a symbolically significant move.” However, it will also modify systems that people have come to rely on without recognizing they were ephemeral, while experts predict that the future is uncertain.
ABC News quoted Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, as saying, “I believe the administration hopes that we are definitely shifting into an endemic era and that the pandemic time is in the past.”
“Having said that, we in infectious diseases and public health are rather anxious. And the point is, here we are at the end of January projecting what the circumstances will be in May,” Schaffner continued. This virus is quite unpredictable.
According to the KFF, which focuses on national health, 5 to 14 million Americans might soon lose access to the government’s health insurance program for low-income individuals and others following three years of significant membership increases.
And according to projections from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, roughly 7 million of these individuals may still be qualified but will fall through the renewal process’ holes and lose health insurance. During the COVID-19 public health catastrophe, approximately 20 million people joined in Medicaid, a nearly 30% increase from before the pandemic, and the uninsured rate fell to record lows.
This increase was fueled by a rule under the public health emergency that prohibited states from removing anyone from Medicaid while the pandemic was at its peak, allowing people to avoid bureaucratic renewal processes that, according to experts, frequently resulted in people losing coverage despite being eligible.
In contrast, a recently enacted law in Congress gives states the authority to de-enroll individuals from Medicaid beginning on April 1, putting a stop to the provision of continuous enrollment during the public health emergency.
Kates, a senior vice president of KFF, stated, “This will result in eligible individuals losing out on the program.” “Therefore, I believe this is a problem right now,” she continued, “since they would lose coverage for all of their health care during that time.”
KFF anticipates that enrollment will decrease between 5% and 13% in the year after a rule change to Medicaid. There are initiatives to re-enroll some of those who lose Medicaid coverage, such as a special enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act.
And other Americans will be disenrolled from Medicaid if they have a job that provides health insurance or if they earn too much money to remain eligible for Medicaid.
“As a member of the general public, I understand where the government is headed. However, as a physician, I am somewhat concerned because the loss of Medicaid would create a disparity between the wealthy and the poor, “The infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco, Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, told ABC News.
“Especially with a $500 price tag for a Paxlovid course [to treat COVID-19], $130 for an injection, we already know how much testing at Walgreens and CVS costs,” he stated. Therefore, I believe that all of these factors make it difficult for everyone to safeguard not just themselves but also one another.
The end of the public health emergency will result in a price increase for certain COVID-19 health interventions, although the increase will likely not be seen immediately.
One of the most noticeable new expenses will be for at-home quick testing, which has been free for the majority of their existence. For instance, people with insurance can receive eight free tests every month, or they can arrange free tests from the government.
On May 11, however, the public health emergency will cease, according to Kates at KFF. The same holds true for getting a test at a clinic or doctor’s office. In the future, this may incur costs, although it is free under the emergency order.
As for medications such as the antiviral Paxlovid, their availability will depend on when the federal government runs out of stock, at which point insurance companies will alter their coverage. Before then, it is unlikely that treatment costs will grow significantly.
“The federal proclamation has significant repercussions, primarily financial, that many people are unaware of,” said Chin-Hong. “Suddenly, you must pay for copayments, office visits, and even lab testing,” he continued. Then, individuals may be reluctant to seek health care out of fear of a copayment or a hefty bill.
However, immunizations will remain free for insured individuals. Congress and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have worked to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are covered by insurance, both during the public health emergency and after the government ceases purchasing and distributing them for free.
Congress moved to guarantee telehealth access for all Medicare recipients for the next two years, ensuring that the phone and video visits on which these patients have come to rely are not jeopardized when the emergency ends.
Telehealth availability for individuals with private insurance will rely on state regulations and insurance company policies. As there is no one-size-fits-all answer, people can contact their providers for more information.
The public health emergency required states to exchange specific statistics with the CDC, such as the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths. A top official in the Biden administration stated that the CDC will continue to encourage states to voluntarily provide this information with them, but that some states will opt not to comply.
The outcome could be a less clear picture of the pandemic, with less information into potential infection increases and slower responses from health officials. “This means we won’t be able to track fundamental things like hospital capacity,” said Chin-Hong. In essence, “there will be less capacity to raise the alarm before the storm arrives,” he said. Professor of preventive medicine Schaffner stated that the cessation of all emergency efforts will indicate to the public that the pandemic has ended, even though infections and fatalities continue.
Currently, between 300 and 500 individuals per day die from COVID in the United States, he stated. “Consequently, we must maintain vigilance. But if we declare an official end, I believe the public will see that as a signal that they no longer need to be concerned, which could lead to a spike in COVID.”
The termination of the COVID-19 outbreak is connected to a very other issue: immigration. The public health emergency has permitted both the Trump and Biden administrations to claim Title 42 of the United States Code to swiftly deport asylum-seeking migrants from the border due to the potential of COVID-19 spread.
While the Biden administration seeks to repeal Title 42, a coalition of predominantly Republican-led states argues that they will be hurt by the subsequent immigration. The matter is currently before the Supreme Court. Their ruling will be rendered before to June, when the court’s current term expires.
Ending the COVID-19 crisis could legally hamper the Biden administration’s claim that it has the authority to forgive the student loan debt of around 40 million Americans. This idea has been challenged in court, and the Supreme Court will hear arguments on it next month. The administration has used the COVID-19 national emergency as justification for the education secretary’s ability to modify the status and conditions of student debt.
“A nationwide emergency affected millions of student loan holders. Due to this emergency, many of these borrowers are still in risk of defaulting on their student loans. Under the HEROES Act, Congress gave the Secretary of Education the authority to avert this harm, and he is doing so “An administration official told ABC News the following.
In court documents, Nebraska and five other Republican-led states challenging the plan said that the White House cannot have it both ways, citing President Joe Biden’s comments from last year suggesting that Americans may live with the virus in the future.
“The government has undermined [Department of Educationrationale ]’s letter. Regarding the COVID-19 rationale, in September 2022, the president pronounced “the pandemic…over.” As for the current situation of the economy, the White House reported that “household finances are stronger than they were before the pandemic.” “Republican states objected.