The Biden administration plans to end the COVID public health emergency in May

The Biden administration announced Monday that the COVID-19 public health emergency, which has been in effect since January 2020, will end on May 11.

“The COVID-19 National Emergency and Public Health Emergency (PHE) were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020. Currently, they will expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. Currently, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations until May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement.

Since it was first declared on January 31, 2020 by former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar, the national PHE has been renewed 12 times under two different administrations. The most recent renewal was declared on January 11.

The Biden administration has repeatedly said that it would provide at least 60 days notice if it decided to end the PHE so that health care providers and stakeholders could have time to prepare. Monday’s announcement provides for 101 days until the emergency officially ends.

“To be clear, the continuation of these emergency declarations through May 11 does not place any restrictions on individual conduct with respect to COVID-19,” the OMB said in its statement. “They don’t impose mask mandates or vaccine mandates. They do not restrict school or business operations. They do not require the use of any drugs or tests in response to COVID-19 cases.”

As OMB noted, an abrupt end to the PHE would cause “far-reaching chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system.” Since the declaration, programs like Medicaid have operated under special rules, allowing beneficiaries to keep their coverage during the pandemic.

Under the flexibilities that were enacted under the PHE, traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries were able to receive free COVID-19 testing and treatment at home and pay no cost sharing.

Private insurance providers were also required to cover coronavirus tests and services without cost sharing and without prior authorization.

Last year, Medicaid launched guide in a 12-month “off” period after the PHE ended in which operations would return to pre-pandemic norms. The guidance dictated that state Medicaid and CHIP agencies will be able to begin their “gated” period either one month before the PHE ends, the same month it ends, or the month after the PHE ends.

The end of the PHE will also mean the end of Title 42 border policywhich allows border officials to expel foreign nationals and ignore asylum claims in the interest of protecting public health.

“The number of migrants crossing the border has roughly halved since the Administration launched a plan in early January to deter irregular migration from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua and Haiti. The Administration supports an orderly and predictable wind-down of Title 42, with sufficient time to implement alternative policies,” the OMB stated.

Republican lawmakers have already introduced legislation to end PHE, including “The pandemic is over.” That bill, introduced by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) earlier this month, would kill the PHE the same day it is signed into law. With a Democratic majority in the Senate and a veto by President Biden almost certain to occur if passed by Congress, this bill seemed mostly symbolic in nature, designed to record Republican lawmakers’ discontent with the ongoing PHE.

The Biden administration criticized the methods by which the legislation was intended to end the emergency, saying it would impose “very significant impacts” on the US health care system and government operations, as well as allow “thousands of of migrants per day enter the country immediately without the necessary policies established”.

Senate Republicans said the measure is overdue.

“Which makes sense. Everyone got immunity from getting the vaccine, they had [COVID-19] or probably both. It’s time to move on,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) said shortly after the White House announcement.

“That will have some impacts. …Most people would argue that it is long overdue. I think we’ve said goodbye, not entirely, but for all intents and purposes, to the pandemic a long time ago and I think it’s time our policies reflected that,” Sen. John Thune (RS.D.) said.

Al Weaver contributed. Updated at 7:15 p.m.


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