Biden administration plans to end COVID public health emergency in May

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WASHINGTON – The Biden administration plans to end the coronavirus public health emergency in May, the White House said Monday, a sign that federal officials believe the pandemic has moved into a new, less severe phase. Is.

The move has both symbolic weight and real-world consequences. Millions of Americans have received free COVID testing, treatment and vaccines during the pandemic, and it will no longer be free once the emergency is over. Officials said the White House wants to keep the emergency for several more months so that hospitals, health care providers and health officials can prepare for the many changes when it ends.

On average, more than 500 people are still dying from COVID-19 each day in the United States, nearly double the number of deaths per day during the worst flu season. But at the three-year mark, the coronavirus is no longer upsetting everyday life to the same extent it once did, partly because most of the population has at least some protection against the virus from vaccination and prior infection.

Still, the White House said Monday that the nation needs an orderly transition from a public health emergency. The administration said it intended to allow a separate declaration of a national emergency to expire on the same day, May 11.

The White House said, “An abrupt end to emergency declarations would create widespread chaos and uncertainty across the health care system – for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for millions of Americans.” a statement.

The announcement came on the eve of a scheduled vote in the House on a bill to end the public health emergency immediately. The bill, called the Epidemic Is Over Act, is one of several measures related to the pandemic that the Republican-controlled chamber is set to consider this week. The White House released its statement as part of the administration’s response to that bill and another measure to end the national emergency.

The back and forth signaled what is likely to be a protracted political battle between House Republicans and the White House over their handling of the pandemic. Republican lawmakers expected to put the Biden administration on the defensive, claiming it had spent extravagantly in the name of fighting the coronavirus.

“Instead of waiting until May 11, the Biden administration should join us in ending this proclamation immediately,” Representative Steve Scalise, Louisiana’s Republican and majority leader, said in a statement. “Gone are the days of the Biden administration being able to hide behind Covid to waste billions of taxpayer dollars on its unconvincing, radical agenda.”

The White House argues that the pandemic is now under better control because of federal COVID policies mandating only free testing, treatment and vaccines. Covid was the third leading cause of death from mid-2020 to 2022; It is no longer in the top five killers, federal officials said.

The public health emergency was first declared by the Trump administration in January 2020, and has since been renewed every 90 days. The Biden administration had pledged to alert states 60 days before it was scrapped. The state of emergency was last renewed in January, and many state health officials expected it to be allowed to expire in mid-April.

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Ending the emergency will result in complex changes to the cost of the Covid tests and treatments Americans are used to getting for free. Any charges they face will vary depending on whether they have private insurance, Medicare coverage, Medicaid coverage, or no health insurance at all. What state they live in can also be a factor.

Still, the results may not be as dramatic as public health experts once feared. Medicaid enrollment greatly expanded during the pandemic as low-income Americans were kept in the program as long as the public health emergency was active.

But a congressional spending package enacted in December effectively broke that link, instead setting an April deadline for when states would begin losing additional funding for Medicaid coverage. Beginning this year, state officials will gradually remove Americans from the Medicaid rolls. This transition avoids the sudden removal of millions of poor Americans from their health coverage.

By reconfiguring that costly policy, Congress was able to use projected savings to pay for expanded Medicaid benefits for children, postpartum mothers, and residents of US territories.

The December law expanded coverage for telehealth visits for Medicare recipients through 2024. Telemedicine proved to be a lifeline for many during the pandemic, and that coverage would end when the state of emergency was lifted.

Still, other services may prove more expensive for Americans, especially those with no insurance. People with private health insurance or Medicare coverage are eligible for eight free coronavirus tests each month. Insurers were required to cover the tests even if they were administered by providers who were not part of their network. After the emergency ends, some Americans will end up paying out of pocket for those tests.

And while vaccines will continue to be covered by private insurance or for those with Medicare or Medicaid coverage, the end of the emergency will mean some Americans may have to pay out of pocket for Covid treatments, such as Paxlovid, an antiviral pill. Hospitals will also no longer receive the higher Medicare payment rates for treating COVID patients.

Jennifer Cates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the emergency declaration provided a significant relief from the typically fragmented way the US health care system covers the cost of care, giving more people access to services. What could not have happened otherwise. covered by insurance.

The White House’s decision, she said, could send the wrong message about how relaxed Americans should be about the virus.

“To the extent that it may let people down their guard from one day to the next, it may raise some challenges,” she said.

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