How the end of the COVID public health emergency will affect testing and treatment

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The Biden administration has announced that it plans to end the classification of the pandemic as a public health emergency on May 11, a move that will launch a complex wave of policy changes that will increase testing of Americans for the disease and Can complicate treatment options.

“I have one word to describe all of this, ‘confusion,'” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s already confusing where to get tests, who’s paying for what, what my co-pay will be. Now it’s going to be a complicated equation.”

It’s not yet clear how the public health emergency will end, but here are health policy experts’ projections for how it could affect you.

Jennifer Cates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, said the biggest change most people will notice is that they will no longer be eligible for eight free at-home Covid tests per month through their insurance.

Dr Cates suggests people stock up on free tests, which may be available at a local library or COVID testing center, before the emergency declaration expires – just be sure to note the expiration date. After that, people with private insurance will probably have to pay full cost for at-home Covid tests at drugstores.

Dr. Cates said she may also have new co-pays for treatments like paxlovid and for PCR tests, even those ordered by her doctor. It’s not yet clear how expensive these co-pays will be, but they will be comparable to the cost of any doctor-recommended prescriptions or tests, she said. The cost can vary from plan to plan, said Jose Francisco Figueroa, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.

Dr Cates said people with private insurance would pay nothing for Covid vaccines, whether they are being vaccinated for the first time or getting booster shots, as long as they get them from an in-network provider Receive. He said this happened because of a policy change in the Affordable Care Act introduced before the pandemic.

People on Medicare may have to pay co-pays for treatments such as antivirals and doctor-ordered tests, said Natalie Davis, a founder and CEO of United Care, a nonprofit that supports expanding access to health care. Is. Dr. Cates said they will still be able to get free Covid vaccines, thanks to the CARES Act and rules put in place by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services during the pandemic.

He said people on Medicare were previously able to get eight free at-home COVID tests per month, but now they will not be able to do so and will have to pay the full cost of the at-home tests.

Because of a provision in the US rescue plan, Dr. Cates said, people on Medicaid will be able to access Covid testing and treatment at no cost until 2024. He added that thanks to a provision in the Inflation Reduction Act, they would also be able to get free vaccines.

Dr. Cates said that in some states, people without insurance have been able to get temporary Medicaid coverage for tests, treatments and vaccines, but that too could end once the public health emergency ends.

Those without insurance are already struggling to access COVID care. “This is a group that falls through every crack in our system,” Ms Davies said. These people will most likely need to rely on public health programs, which may vary depending on their location. “Different states will have different safety nets,” Dr. Chin-hong said. “It’s going to be very regional.”

Ultimately, while health policy experts have raised concerns about the implications of a pandemic outlawing official “emergency” status, the wording may reinforce the mindset that many have embraced for months, if not years, as a said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“The American public already believes this pandemic is over,” he said.

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