End of COVID-19 emergency declaration comes with healthcare, insurance impacts

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — COVID-19 will soon no longer be declared a public health emergency.

The federal government plans to end the designation by May 11.

However, Congress is trying to end it sooner.

Regardless, the ball is rolling to disassemble the national COVID-19 response team.

“This was inevitable, though. You know, at some point, we need to start transitioning to manage COVID-19 like other diseases that cause significant morbidity and mortality,” said Dr. Jason Salemi, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the University of South Florida.

Winding down this national emergency will have some impact on hospitals, doctor’s offices, and nursing homes.

“It’s basically going to do a lot of things to sort of convert our healthcare system back to the way it was before the pandemic started,” said public health expert and researcher Dr. Tom Unnasch.

Certain Medicare and Medicaid waivers and flexibility for healthcare providers will end.

Many employees and dependents who are currently enrolled in Medicaid or CHIP coverage may lose eligibility for that coverage.

Telehealth will see some changes too.

“They tightened up a little bit on telehealth prescriptions for several types of drugs,” said Unnasch.

Once the declaration ends, the federal government will no longer give out free widespread COVID-19 tests.

According to the US Department of Labor, when it comes to health benefits, plans will no longer be required to cover some services related to COVID-19, such as diagnostic testing.

Private insurance companies will no longer be required to cover COVID-19 tests, both at a lab and over the counter.

“Same thing with the COVID vaccine. While supplies last, it’s going to be free. Once it runs out, it’s going to roll back onto the insurance companies to cover people. Under the Affordable Care Act, almost everyone should be covered anyway, but if you’re not insured, you’re going to have to pay for them and it’s estimated to cost about $100-$130 per dose,” said Unnasch.

National COVID-19 surveillance will change too.

Labs will no longer be required to report COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will affect the ability to calculate percent positivity— something that was already decreasing due to at-home COVID-19 tests.

“We’re really going to fall back and have to rely on hospitalization numbers and they’ve been holding pretty steady. I think the reason for that is there’s so much herd immunity out there now,” said Unnasch.

Salemi told ABC Action News that transitioning out of this national emergency declaration is a necessary next step.

“If it’s always a public health emergency, if it’s always just labeled as an emergency when everything is an emergency, then nothing is an emergency. That is, when we actually do get a wave and we need people to respond with some sense of urgency, they’re going to be desensitized,” said Salemi.

Health experts stress this transition doesn’t mean COVID-19 isn’t still an issue we have to be mindful of.

“That transition does not mean that COVID is not still causing a lot of morbidity and mortality. That doesn’t mean that we still don’t need to take actions depending on our own situation,” said Salemi.

“It’s still killing an awful lot of people out there but the people it’s killing are primarily elderly people who are above 70 years old and those in nursing homes and those who have really serious health problems to begin with,” said Unnasch.

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