When the federal Covid-19 public health emergency ends on May 11, it will be the end of an era for the American health system.
For more than three years, in a nation where patients usually pay more for health care than residents of any other high-income country, tests and vaccines were available to all Americans for free. Treatment was free for many people, too, including those without insurance.
Health care providers adapted on the fly, moving services to the computer or the phone in order to continue treating patients. Hospitals got an important infusion of government funding at a time when, at least at first, they were forced to cancel many of their surgeries and other services in order to handle surges of patients as the coronavirus spread.
But the Biden administration announced Monday that the public health emergency will end in May, which will stop some of those provisions. Others, extended by Congress recently, will have a limited life span unless lawmakers decide to act again.
American health care is, like everything else, getting back to normal — which means it will be harder for some people to access the health care they need.
“As we transition into the new normal, we are returning mostly to our fragmented health system as we knew it,” Jen Kates, director of global health at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has analyzed the implications of the emergency’s end, told me.
The most important pandemic provision that will start to wind down in the next few months is Medicaid’s policy of continuous coverage. Usually, states regularly check whether people enrolled in Medicaid are still eligible for it. But with additional federal funding, states kept everyone on the rolls throughout the pandemic. Those checks will resume over the course of this year, and millions of people are expected to lose their health coverage — whether or not they should.
The resumption of enrollment verification is not directly tied to the end of the public health emergency that the Biden administration announced this week. Nevertheless, the looming end of a number of policies put in place for the pandemic will affect millions more. Here are a few worth knowing about.
1) People aren’t going to get free at-home Covid tests in the mail anymore — and that’s not the only thing
The pandemic has been, in some ways, a unique experiment in universal health care for America. Though the rules have evolved over time, at one point or another, Covid-19 tests, vaccines, and treatment have been available to everyone for free. As of right now, you can still order free at-home tests from the federal government. Even those without insurance can get their shots or an antiviral at no charge.
That will start to change with the end of the public health emergency, though how much people have to pay and for what will depend on their insurer. For people without insurance, still about 8 percent of the population, they will now face the full cost if they want to get a test or if they need medication after contracting the coronavirus.
People with health coverage could also face some additional costs. People with private insurance, about half of the population, could…
Read More: How Biden ending the Covid-19 public health emergency affects tests, vaccines,