The Covid emergency in the US ends on May 11th. HHS officials say what to expect

People walk past a COVID-19 testing site on July 28, 2022 in New York City.

Liao Pan | China News Service | Getty Images

On Thursday, the Department of Health and Human Services said it would change and remain the same when the three-year Covid-related public health emergency ends in May.

Health Minister Xavier Becerra officially informed state governors on Thursday that he is extending the declaration for the last time, but plans to end the state of emergency on May 11. The White House already briefed Congress on these plans last week.

HHS officials spoke to reporters on the phone about what the public can expect once the state of emergency ends.

Immediate changes:

  • People with private health insurance may have to pay for Covid tests, both OTC and lab tests, depending on their plan.
  • Older people enrolled in Medicare Part B will start paying for over-the-counter tests, although the program covers lab tests.
  • Hospitals will lose the flexibility to expand capacity in response to surges.
  • The federal government can no longer require laboratories to report Covid test results to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Long term change

  • Vaccines and antivirals for Covid, such as Paxlovid, will remain free for everyone, regardless of insurance status, until current federal stocks run out.
  • Extended telehealth through Medicare will also run through December 2024, in accordance with the federal spending law passed in December. But it will end after that without the intervention of Congress.

The Food and Drug Administration will continue to have the authority to rapidly authorize Covid vaccines, tests and treatments through its separate emergency powers.

Millions of people are also at risk of losing health insurance through Medicaid this year as the federal protection that protected people during the pandemic comes to an end. These remedies were once associated with a public health emergency, but then Congress decided to phase them out separately.

In short, states could start removing people from Medicaid as early as April if they no longer qualify for the public health insurance program. HHS plans to open a special enrollment period so that these people can apply for coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

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While Covid vaccines and treatments will remain free for everyone after the end of the public health emergency, this may change for uninsured adults when federal supplies run out.

The Biden administration plans to stop purchasing vaccines and treatments for the public as early as this fall, in part because Congress has not provided additional funding. When the federal government leaves, vaccines and treatments will be purchased and distributed through the private market.

This means that Pfizer and Moderna will sell vaccines directly to health care providers, and whether you pay will depend on whether you are insured.

People who are insured under the Affordable Care Act and Medicare will continue to receive free shots. Those on Medicaid will get free immunizations until September 2024, after which coverage will vary by state.

Adults without insurance are likely to have to pay for shots when supplies run out, although the White House has said it is developing plans to help them.

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