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5 Takeaways: The End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency

February 01, 2023

The Biden administration this week announced its plan to formally end the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) on May 11.

The announcement marks another pandemic milestone, coming nearly three years after COVID-19 was declared a public emergency during March 2020.

The PHE has provided additional flexibilities to support the nation’s pandemic response, ensuring safe access to care via telehealth, maintaining continuous enrollment in the Medicaid program, and providing free COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments.

“This wind-down would align with the administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE,” the White House said in a statement on Monday.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Legislative activity:  House Republicans this week planned to introduce legislation that would end the emergency declarations before May 11. White House officials oppose the legislation, saying the abrupt end of the PHE would have “significant impacts on our nation’s health system and government operations.”
  • Telehealth beyond the PHE:  The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 extended many of the PHE-related Medicare telehealth flexibilities through December 2024.
    • Some Medicare changes—such as availability of behavioral health care via audio-only telehealth—have been made permanent.
  • Access to tests, vaccines:  The PHE afforded free access to COVID-19 tests and vaccines.
    • When the PHE ends, private insurers will still offer free vaccinations, but patients going out-of-network could see charges.
    • For testing, requirements for in-network providers and other related out-of-pocket costs can resume after the PHE ends.
  • A note on Medicaid:  Medicaid’s continuous enrollment provision expires March 31, 2023, and is no longer tied to the end of the PHE. This change stems from the passage of the federal year-end spending bill.
  • Global perspective:  On Monday, the World Health Organization said COVID-19 was “probably at a transition point,” but remains a PHE of international concern.

HAP will continue to monitor the end of the COVID-19 PHE and provide additional updates to members about the potential impact on the health care community.

Additional information about the end of the PHE is available online.