It comes as lawmakers have already ended elements of the emergencies that have kept millions of Americans insured during the pandemic. This, combined with drawing most of the federal COVID-19 relief funds, would also shift vaccine and treatment development out of direct federal government management.
Biden’s announcement comes in a statement opposing resolutions this week by House Republicans to end the emergency immediately. House Republicans are also preparing to launch inquiries into the federal government’s response to COVID-19.
Then-President Donald Trump first declared the COVID-19 pandemic a national emergency on March 13, 2020. The states of emergency have been repeatedly extended by Biden since taking office in January 2021 and are expected to expire in the coming months. The White House said Biden plans to briefly extend both until May 11.
“An abrupt end to the declarations of emergency would create widespread chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and physicians’ offices, and most importantly for tens of millions of Americans,” the Office of Management and Budget wrote in an administrative policy statement.
More than 1.1 million people in the United States have died from COVID-19 since 2020, including about 3,700 in the past week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Congress has already softened the reach of the health emergency that has hit Americans most directly, as political calls for the declaration to end mount. Lawmakers have refused for months to meet the Biden administration’s call for billions more dollars to expand free COVID vaccines and testing. And the $1.7 trillion spending package passed and signed by Biden last year put an end to a rule preventing states from throwing people off Medicaid, a move expected to see millions of people out of action after Jan April will lose their cover.
“In some ways, the Biden administration is catching up on what many people in the country have been experiencing,” said Larry Levitt, executive vice president of health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “Even so, hundreds of people are still dying a day from COVID.”
Still, some things will change for Americans once the state of emergency ends, Levitt stressed.
The cost of COVID-19 vaccines is also expected to skyrocket once the government stops buying them, with Pfizer saying it will charge as much as $130 per dose. Only 15% of Americans have received the recommended updated booster shot that has been available since last fall.
People with private insurance might have some out-of-pocket expenses for vaccines, especially if they go to an off-network provider, Levitt said. Free at-home COVID testing will also come to an end. And hospitals will not receive additional payments for treating COVID patients.
Legislators extended the flexibility of telemedicine introduced with the COVID-19 outbreak for an additional two years, directing healthcare systems across the country to regularly deliver care via smartphone or computer.
The Biden administration had already considered ending the emergency for the past year, but held back over concerns about a possible “winter spike” in cases and giving providers, insurers and patients ample time to prepare for its end.
Officials said the government will use the next three months to switch response to conventional methods, warning that an immediate end to emergency agencies would “sow confusion and chaos in this critical process.”
“To be clear, the continuation of these emergency declarations through May 11 does not impose any restrictions on individual behavior regarding COVID-19,” the government said. “They are not imposing mask or vaccination requirements. They do not restrict school or business operations. They do not require the use of drugs or tests in response to cases of COVID-19.”
Case numbers are down after a slight spike over the winter holidays and are well below levels of the last two winters – although there has been a sharp fall in the number of tests being carried out for the virus and reported to health authorities.
On Monday, the World Health Organization said the coronavirus remains a global health emergency, even as a key advisory body to the group noted the pandemic may be nearing a “tipping point” where higher levels of immunity can reduce virus-related deaths. China, for example, reported an unprecedented surge in December after lifting most of its COVID-19 restrictions.
Shortly before the White House announcement, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., accused the President of unnecessarily prolonging the public health emergency to take action to address issues such as canceling some federal student loan debt.
“The country has largely returned to normal,” Cole said Monday, introducing a Republican-backed bill calling for an end to the public health emergency. “Everyday Americans have returned to work and school with no restrictions on their activities. It is time the government recognized this reality: the pandemic is over.”