U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) before receiving a second COVID-19 booster shot in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House on March 30, 2022 in Washington, United States.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
The Biden administration plans to end the Covid public health emergency this spring as the U.S. shifts away from responding to the pandemic as a national crisis, instead treating the virus more like a seasonal respiratory illness.
The White House said in a statement Monday it will end public health and national emergencies on May 11, which the Trump administration first declared in 2020.
The statement, issued by the Office of Management and Budget, expressed the White House’s strong opposition to House Republican legislation aimed at immediately ending emergency declarations.
Public health and national emergencies have allowed hospitals to respond more flexibly when faced with spikes in patient traffic during Covid outbreaks.
Enrollment in Medicaid has also surged because Congress has blocked states in principle from withdrawing people from the program, citing the public health emergency.
A provision in federal spending legislation passed in December allows states to begin withdrawing people from Medicaid in April.
The Department of Health and Human Services has promised to give states 60 days’ notice before the emergency ends, giving the health care system time to prepare for a return to normal.
The public health emergency has been extended every 90 days since January 2020 as the virus has evolved into new variants and repeatedly thrown curveballs over the past three years. HHS extended the emergency earlier this month.
The OMB said an abrupt end to emergencies in the manner established by Republican legislation would “create widespread chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system.”
Ending the statements without giving hospitals time to adjust would result in “disruptions in care and delays in payments, and many facilities across the country will experience lost revenue,” according to the OMB statement.
It would also “sow confusion and chaos” in the process of processing Medicaid coverage, OMB said.
Though emergency declarations remain in place, the federal response to the pandemic has already been scaled back as funding has dried up. Congress failed for months to pass a White House request for $22.5 billion in additional funding for the Covid response.
The White House also plans to bring the Covid vaccines to the private market in the near future, although the exact timing is unclear. That means the cost of the vaccines would be borne by patients’ insurance policies, not the federal government.
Moderna and Pfizer have both announced they can charge up to $130 per vaccine dose, four times what the federal government pays.
Covid has killed more than 1 million people in the US since 2020. Deaths have fallen dramatically since the pandemic peaked in winter 2021, but nearly 4,000 people still succumb to the virus each week.