Are there changes to vaccines and treatments coming?

The Covid public health emergency ends on May 11th.

The emergency has been in place since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. It enabled a variety of mandates and rules to address Covid, including the requirement that Covid testing be available to patients free of charge.

The emergency has been repeatedly extended, but expires on May 11 and will not be renewed. President Joe Biden signed legislation into law in April ending a separate national declaration of emergency over Covid.

As the public health emergency draws to a close, here’s what might be changing and what you need to know:

Vaccines and Treatments

Access to Covid vaccines and treatments such as Paxlovid and Lagevrio will generally not be affected by the end of the emergency, according to the Federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Shots like the Covid vaccine are considered a preventive healthcare benefit in most private insurance plans and are therefore covered with no co-payment, HHS said. Covid vaccines will continue to be covered by Medicare Part B and Medicaid.

And while patients can continue to receive Covid treatments, their costs may increase. Whether this happens depends on a person’s insurance plan, HHS said.

Medicaid will continue to cover treatments for patients free of charge until September 30, 2024, but after that, coverage and costs may vary by state.

Covid tests

Covid testing coverage mandates change when emergency ends. Private insurers will no longer be obliged to take on tests for patients free of charge. That’s true for both over-the-counter rapid tests and lab tests, HHS said.

Insurers can still cover tests if they choose. HHS said it encourages insurers to do so.

Medicare Part B will continue to pay for lab tests, but beneficiaries will lose access to free rapid over-the-counter tests. State Medicaid programs must cover free testing for patients by September 30, 2024. After that, coverage may vary by state.

The federal government can also continue to distribute free Covid tests through the mail and other partners, HHS said, but there are no guarantees it will happen.

Covid tracking

The end of the public health emergency also means changes in how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are tracking Covid, according to CNN. The agency will end its color-coded reporting of community levels of Covid-19, instead tracking the disease primarily through hospitalizations.

That’s similar to how the CDC tracks other infections like the flu, CNN said. Other surveillance, such as sewage testing for the virus, is also continuing.

Covid gear

During the emergency, medical device manufacturers were required to notify the Food and Drug Administration of disruptions in the production of devices and other equipment used to diagnose or treat Covid. That requirement ends when the emergency does, HHS said.

This means the FDA’s ability to identify shortages of critical Covid response equipment will be more limited, according to HHS. The agency is asking Congress to approve a separate extension of manufacturer reporting requirements to avoid bottlenecks.

For more information on the end of the public health emergency, visit the HHS website.

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