What the End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Could Mean for Providers

On January 31, 2020, the Secretary of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency related to the then-newly emerging COVID-19 virus. Recently, President Joe Biden said the emergency would expire on May 11, 2023, after two years, three months, one week, and four days. The announcement came in line with a previous promise to provide at least 60 days’ notice, and gives healthcare operators time to prepare for the significant changes that will come about as a result.

Telehealth, which saw wide-ranging adoption in the face of public health measures to limit the spread of the virus, is likely to be here to stay, with a provision to extend waivers for healthcare providers through 2024 included as part of the $1.7 trillion federal spending package passed in December 2022. Still, telehealth advocates are warning that one waiver is slated to end along with the emergency declaration, which could reduce the ability of providers to prescribe some medications for substance use disorders and limit the ability of underserved patients to receive treatment.

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will still retain the ability to authorize treatments, devices, and vaccines for emergency use after the end of the declaration, and COVID vaccines will still be covered for those with private insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid, but patients who do not fall into those groups will find themselves paying potentially steep rates to avoid falling ill from new variants. Treatments such as Paxlovid are likely to incur out of pocket costs for all Americans, according to The New York Times.

Hospitals will continue to face enormous fiscal challenges, with 2022 standing as their worst financial year since the beginning of the pandemic. Medicare reimbursements for treating COVID-19 patients will drop from their 20% boost in payment rate, further adding to the financial strain faced by health systems. Patients will face a similarly significant impact, with millions likely to be thrown off of Medicaid as a result of the reduction in additional funding to states, and some states expected to make new determinations for eligibility, stopping coverage for some recipients.

“While the country may be entering a new phase of the fight against COVID-19, hospitals and their caregivers continue to navigate a host of weighty challenges including workforce shortages and financial pressures, cost increases for equipment and drugs, disrupted supply chains, and sicker patients,” said Stacey Hughes, Executive Vice President of government relations and public policy for the American Hospital Association in a statement. “These issues will require continued attention and investment from the federal government.”