Three years later, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week authorized a federal public health emergency (PHE) for COVID-19 passeseffectively ending some of the flexibility in the various acts and regulations that were created with it.
Tests, vaccines and treatments related to COVID-19 that were previously widely available for free or at low cost will no longer be guaranteed by federal law. In general and in most cases, coverage for COVID-19 treatment will revert to the old rules of individual insurance plans.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also announced that the emergency period under Stafford’s Lawwhich provided individual and public assistance, ended this week.
Expiration dates for other subsidies and assistance programs are beyond the scope of the public health emergency declaration.
The cost and availability of vaccines is also changing as the federal stockpile of funds to treat COVID-19 is depleted. They will be available for free only while current supplies last. Once government stocks are exhausted, vaccines and treatments will be available on the commercial market.
These are flexibility and health-related provisions that expire after the national emergency ends.
Vaccine, test and treatment coverage
After PHE ends, the provision of free COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatment will be limited.
For example, Medicaid will no longer cover COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments for uninsured individuals. Private insurers and Medicare will also no longer be required to provide Americans with eight free at-home COVID-19 tests per month, as mandated during the state of emergency.
Prices for rapid at-home COVID-19 tests range from $10 to $40 per test.
During the pandemic, those covered by private insurance and Medicare Advantage plans were guaranteed free PCR tests and doctor visits, which is no longer in effect.
Unlike PHE, traditional Medicare members must now also share in the cost of all medical appointments related to testing.
It’s the same with vaccines: private insurance companies are no longer required to fully cover the cost of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Cost of hospitalization
Individuals who are hospitalized and require treatment for COVID-19 will also incur higher costs. During PHE, Medicare covered 20% more of the cost of the visit. This extra cover has come to an end with the expiry of PHE this week.
Benefits of SNAP
Expanded access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would also be repealed, and work requirements for federal programs would be eliminated.