What the End of the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration Means For Your Family

The government's national public health emergency expires on May 11. Here's what experts say that will mean for caregivers and kids.

Young girl receives the COVID-19 vaccine

Ivan Pantic / Stocksy

In late January, President Joe Biden announced that two pandemic emergencies will end on May 11, 2023. As much as a further push toward normalcy is welcome to most of us, transitions are hard, and many parents are left with unanswered questions about what this change may mean for their children, their insurance coverage, and their access to critical COVID-19 tests and vaccines, as well as health care overall.

Parents reached out to experts in the field to help us answer the questions many caregivers have about how this change will impact American families.

Which Public Health Emergencies Are Ending?

When the COVID pandemic started, the government made several emergency declarations to support efforts to manage the pandemic and protect the American people. Two of those public health emergency declarations won't be renewed when they are set to expire on May 11: the COVID-19 national emergency and the public health emergency (PHE). Both were put in place in early 2020.

These declarations covered certain flexibilities and modifications to Medicare, Medicaid, and Child Health Plus (CHIP) insurance programs, as well as private health insurance.

What Does This Mean For Insurance Coverage?

Perhaps the biggest impact of the end of this declaration is how it may impact people who are on Medicaid. In pre-pandemic times, people on Medicaid received regular checks to see if they were still eligible for services, explained Katelyn Jetelina, Ph.D., an epidemiologist and founder of Your Local Epidemiologist. The emergency declarations removed these checks so that it was easier for people to keep their insurance and receive continuous coverage, Dr. Jetelina says.

"The end of the public health emergency is likely to lead to many people losing Medicaid coverage and becoming uninsured as states return to their pre-pandemic policies for determining eligibility," explains Brandy Lipton, Ph.D., a visiting associate professor at the University of California, Irvine's program in public health. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, an estimated 5 to 14 million people may lose their insurance when this provision ends.

It's less clear how this change will affect people with other types of insurance, including private insurance. "Private and group plans might still cover COVID-related services, but will not be required to do so after May 11," says Robert Amler, M.D., the Dean of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College and a former chief medical officer at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. "Families should check with their plan administrators for clarification of changing benefits around May 11, as well as through October and December 2024, if those dates hold."

Will At-Home COVID Tests Still Be Free?

Having at-home COVID tests available to test our kids when they have COVID symptoms or before gathering with grandparents has been super helpful to many families—especially because it was easy to get them free from insurance companies or elsewhere.

There are no clear answers about whether insurance companies will cover COVID tests going forward. "Coverage of at-home COVID tests will vary by the specific health plan," says Dr. Amler.

Dr. Jetelina points out the government has a stockpile of COVID tests, so there may still be a period of time after the emergency declaration ends when you still will be able to get these tests for free. She reminds us that, at least for now, health insurance companies continue to offer 8 free tests per month for each person on your health insurance plan. Now is a good time to stock up!

Will I Have To Pay For COVID Vaccines For My Family?

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, if you have health insurance, any type of vaccine you get for your family is required to be covered with no copayments. "Parents and their children should not have to pay for the COVID vaccine as long as they have health insurance," says Dr. Lipton. However, he also points out, uninsured children and their families may face costs in the future.

Zachary Hoy, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Pediatrix Medical Group, says although vaccines will be covered by insurance companies, there may be extra charges associated with visiting your pediatrician for the vaccine. These should be similar to other appointment charges, which may mean a co-pay or other preventative care expenses. There may also be charges if you need to get your child a COVID test at the doctor's office. "If COVID testing is necessary in the normal course of an appointment at the pediatrician's office, then it will likely cost a similar price to other viral testing such as for flu or RSV," Dr. Hoy says.

The Bottom Line

It's important to point out that the ending of these resolutions is complex. "Unwinding all the COVID emergency measures, extra coverages, and special provisions is a complicated affair that mirrors the complexity of the pandemic response itself," says Dr. Amler. He adds that any information we have now—or even any information shared by experts—is subject to change as the situation evolves.

Your best bet is to get in touch with your health insurance company with questions, as coverage will differ from company to company, and even from plan to plan. It's particularly important that families with Medicaid renew their insurance by April 1st, which is when states will be able to restart disenrollment.

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