U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) before receiving a second COVID-19 booster vaccination in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building’s South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 30, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
The Biden administration plans to end the Covid public health emergency this spring, which will mark a major turning point in the U.S. response to the pandemic.
The White House, in a statement on Monday, said it would terminate on May 11 the public health and national emergencies that 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 aiming to immediately end the emergency declarations.
The public health and national emergencies have enabled hospitals and nursing homes to respond more flexibly when faced with spikes in patient volume during Covid surges.
Enrollment in Medicaid also has surged because Congress basically barred states from withdrawing people from the program, citing the public health emergency.
A provision tucked in federal spending legislation passed in December allows states to start withdrawing people from Medicaid in April.
The Health and Human Services Department has promised to give states 60 days notice before ending the emergency so the health-care system has 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 thrown repeated curveballs over the past three years. HHS just extended the emergency earlier this month.
The OMB said abruptly ending the emergencies in the way laid out in the Republican legislation would “create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system.”
Terminating the declarations without giving hospitals time to adjust would lead to “disruptions in care and payment delays, and many facilities around the country will experience revenue losses,” according to the OMB statement.
It would also “sow confusion and chaos” in the process of winding down the Medicaid-coverage protections, OMB said.
Although the emergency declarations remain in place, the federal response to the pandemic has already been scaled back as funding has dried up. Congress has failed for months to pass a White House request for $22.5 billion in additional funding for the Covid response.
The White House is also planning to transition the Covid vaccines to the private market in the near future, though the exact timing is unclear. This means the cost of the vaccines would be covered by patients’ insurance policies rather than the federal government.
Moderna and Pfizer have both said they may charge as much as $130 per dose of vaccine, quadruple what the federal government pays.
Covid has killed more than 1 million people in the U.S. since 2020. Deaths have dropped dramatically since the pandemic peak during winter 2021, but nearly 4,000 people are still succumbing to the virus every week.