The United States reaffirmed the COVID-19 public health emergency on Wednesday, April 13, allowing millions of Americans to keep receiving free tests, vaccines, and treatments for at least another three months.
When the coronavirus pandemic began in January 2020, a public health emergency was declared. Since then, it has been renewed every quarter and was set to expire on April 16.
In a statement, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said it was extending the public health emergency and that states would be given 60 days’ notice before it ended or expired.
According to policy experts, this could be the final time HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra extends it.
“We’ve all had access to coverage and we’ve been able to tap into the availability of COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines, largely at no cost during the public health emergency, but not all of these items will continue to be free when the public health emergency ends,” said Dr. Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Medicare policy program.
For those covered by the government’s Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programs, the government has been paying for testing, vaccines, and some treatments, and private insurers have been required to cover the full cost of tests and vaccinations through public health emergency funds.
As Congress wrangles over how much more to allocate, the second pot of federal cash it had been using for testing, treating, and vaccinating the uninsured has dried up.
When the public health emergency ends, insured people will be charged co-pays or other charges, while the uninsured will no longer be able to get free testing.
Millions of people might lose Medicaid coverage when states introduce stricter enrollment rules that were relaxed to qualify for more federal funds.
The public health emergency is one of four pandemic-related nationwide emergencies currently in effect, including a national emergency that Biden renewed in March and a separate health emergency that allows the Food and Drug Administration to grant COVID-19 treatments, tests, and vaccines emergency use authorizations.
The renewal highlights Biden’s political conundrum in portraying the pandemic as a threat to gain additional funding from Congress, while also demonstrating that his response to the crisis is holding the virus at bay and permitting a return to something resembling normalcy.