Xavier Becerra, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), extended the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) another 90 days. The extension will allow most of the emergency waivers to remain in place through July.
The emergency declaration allows providers and health plans to better respond to COVID-19 by taking advantage of flexibilities, including the waiving of telehealth restrictions and cost-sharing for COVID-19 tests. It also allows federal funding to continue to be used for tests, vaccines, and certain treatments for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.
HHS first declared COVID-19 was a PHE in January 2020 when the pandemic began, and it has been renewed each quarter since then. It was set to expire on April 16.
The PHE extension comes in the wake of an uptick in COVID-19 cases, primarily in the Northeast due to the highly transmissible BA.2, a subvariant of Omicron. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates BA.2 is responsible for 86 percent of new COVID-19 cases. The CDC also reports that the current seven-day moving average of daily new cases increased five percent compared with the previous seven-day moving average. A total of 80,111,056 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the United States as of April 6.
HHS said it will provide states with 60-days’ notice prior to the termination of the PHE. Recently, industry experts have predicted this latest renewal could be the last one.
The end of the emergency declaration means that, in many cases, COVID-19 testing, certain treatments, and vaccines would no longer be free. A Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) issue brief also notes that Medicare beneficiaries will face cost-sharing requirements for at-home tests, testing-related services, and all COVID-19 treatment, and privately insured individuals could incur additional out-of-pocket costs for tests and related services.