After three years, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week allowed the federal Public Health Emergency (PHE) for COVID-19 to expire, in effect ending some of the flexibilities under various acts and provisions that were created along with it.
Tests, vaccines and COVID-19-related treatments that were previously made widely available for free or at low-cost to individuals will no longer be guaranteed under federal law. Generally speaking and in most cases, coverage for COVID-19 related treatments will revert to old rules under individuals’ insurance plans.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also announced that its emergency incident period under the Stafford Act, which provided individual and public assistance, ended this week.
Other subsidy and aid program end dates extend beyond the public health emergency declaration.
Vaccine cost and availability is changing, too, as the federal supply of COVID-19 treatments is consumed. They will only be available for free while current supplies last. Once the government’s supply is depleted, vaccines and treatments will be available on the commercial market.
These are the health-related flexibilities and provisions that are expiring with the end of the national health emergency.
Vaccine, test and treatment coverage
With the end of the PHE, the provision of free COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatment will be reined in.
For example, Medicaid will no longer cover COVID-19 vaccines, tests, 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 was the mandate during the state of emergency.
Prices for rapid at-home COVID-19 tests range from $10 and $40 a test.
Over the course of the pandemic, those covered by private insurance and Medicare Advantage plans were guaranteed free PCR tests and doctor’s office visits, a provision that’s no longer in place.
Unlike under the PHE, traditional Medicare members must also now share in the cost of all testing-related medical appointments.
Same goes for vaccines: Private insurers are no longer required to fully cover the cost of COVID-19 vaccines.
Individuals who land in the hospital and require treatment for COVID-19 will incur greater costs, too. During the PHE, Medicare covered 20% more of the cost of the visit. That additional coverage came to an end with this week’s expiration of the PHE.
Expanded access to the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) will also be pulled back, with waived work requirements to qualify for federal programs returning.