The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Monday announced the national COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) will end on May 11. Here's what that could mean.
Currently, the national COVID-19 emergency and the PHE—which were first declared by the Trump administration in January 2020—are slated to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. OMB said it intends to "extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date."
Administration officials said they want to provide extra time for the emergency orders to lapse in order to give health systems and medical providers time to prepare for the changes. OMB said that abruptly ending the emergencies would cause "wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system."
"To be clear, continuation of these emergency declarations until May 11 does not impose any restriction at all on individual conduct with regard to COVID-19," OMB said. "They do not impose mask mandates or vaccine mandates. They do not restrict school or business operations. They do not require the use of any medicines or tests in response to cases of COVID-19."
Under the PHE, a number of special rules were implemented, including the requirement that private insurers cover coronavirus testing and services with no cost-sharing and without prior authorization. Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries were also able to receive free at-home COVID-19 tests and treatments with no cost-sharing.
Once the emergency ends, some Americans might need to pay out of pocket for these tests.
And while vaccines will continue to be covered for those with insurance, they might be more costly for uninsured Americans. Some Americans may also have to pay out of pocket for other COVID-19 treatments, such as Paxlovid.
In addition, hospitals will no longer receive higher Medicare payment rates for treating COVID-19 patients and other flexibilities, including hospital bed capacity, will also come to an end.
The end of the PHE will also mean the Title 42 border policy, which allows border officials to ignore asylum claims and expel foreign nationals for the sake of protecting public health, will also end.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said ending the emergencies "makes sense."
"Everybody's either got immunity through taking the vaccine, had [COVID-19] or probably both," he said. "It's time to move on."
The announcement will "have some impacts," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). "…Most people would argue it's long overdue. I think we've said goodbye—not entirely, but for all intents and purposes—to the pandemic a long time ago and I think it's probably high time our policies reflect that."
However, Jennifer Kates, an SVP at the Kaiser Family Foundation, expressed concerns the announcement could send the wrong message to Americans about how relaxed they should be regarding the coronavirus.
"To the extent that it might let people let their guard down from one day to the next, that could raise some challenges," she said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday said the COVID-19 pandemic is still a public health emergency, but suggested the designation may be lifted in the coming months.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said "there is no doubt that we're in a far better situation now" than a year ago, but added that in the last eight weeks, 170,000 people have died worldwide from the coronavirus.
Tedros called for at-risk groups to get fully vaccinated and for an increase in the early use of antivirals and COVID-19 testing, as well as an expansion of lab networks and a fight against "misinformation" about the pandemic.
"We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible level."
In a statement, WHO said that its emergency committee "acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic may be approaching an [inflection] point," adding that higher levels of immunity worldwide "may limit the impact" of the coronavirus on "morbidity and mortality."
"[B]ut there is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future," WHO said. While omicron is easily spread, "there has been a decoupling between infection and severe disease" compared to previous variants. (Choi, The Hill, 1/30; Branswell, STAT, 1/30; Associated Press, 1/30; LaFraniere/Weiland, New York Times, 1/30; Pager/Sun, Washington Post, 1/30)
Create your free account to access 2 resources each month, including the latest research and webinars.
You have 2 free members-only resources remaining this month remaining this month.
Never miss out on the latest innovative health care content tailored to you.