The United States on Wednesday extended the COVID-19 public health emergency for at least three more months, allowing millions of Americans to continue to receive free tests, immunizations, and treatments for the foreseeable future.
The public health emergency was declared for the first time in January 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began spreading around the world. Since then, it has been renewed every three months and was set to expire on April 16.
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced in a statement that it was prolonging the public health emergency and that it would provide states with 60 days’ notice before the emergency was terminated or expired.
The current extension, according to policy experts, could be the final time HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra does so.
In a statement, Dr Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Medicare policy programme, said, “We’ve all had access to coverage,
and we’ve all been able to tap into the availability of COVID-19 testing, treatments, and vaccines, largely at no cost during the public health emergency, but not all of these items will continue to be free when the public health emergency ends.”
For those covered by the government’s Medicare and Medicaid health insurance programmes, the government has been paying for tests, vaccines, and certain treatments.
In addition, the government has required private insurers to cover the full cost of tests and vaccines through public health emergency funding.
The second pot of federal funding that it had been utilising for diagnosing, treating, and vaccinating the uninsured has been depleted as Congress debates how much more money to provide to the programme.
When the state of public health emergency ends, insured persons will be subject to co-pays and other fees, while uninsured people will no longer be able to take advantage of free testing.
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It is possible that millions of people would lose their Medicaid coverage as a result of states reinstituting harsher enrollment requirements that they had relaxed in order to qualify for greater federal money.
Currently, four pandemic-related nationwide emergencies are in effect, including a national emergency that Vice President Biden renewed in March and a separate health emergency that allows the Food and Drug Administration to grant emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 treatments, tests, and vaccines.
In light of the renewal, Biden’s political dilemma over how to portray the pandemic is highlighted. He argues that it remains a threat in order to secure more funding from Congress,
while also demonstrating that his response to the crisis is keeping the virus at bay and permitting a return to something resembling a normal life.