US Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra officially renewed the declaration, extending it until October 13, 2022.
The emergency declaration has been in effect since January 2020, and the latest renewal comes as Omicron’s BA.5 offshoot, the most contagious variant to date, continues to stake its claim in the US. Daily case rates, though vastly undercounted, are the highest they have been in months, as are hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19.
Data released this week by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than half of the country’s population lives in a county with a “high community level of Covid-19”, where the health care system is at risk of becoming overwhelmed and universal. indoor coverage is recommended.
“The public health emergency declaration continues to provide us with tools and principles needed to respond to the highly contagious sub-variants of COVID-19 currently circulating across the country,” a Biden administration official told CNN. “PHE provides essential capabilities and flexibilities for hospitals to better care for patients, particularly if we were to see a significant increase in admissions over the coming weeks.”
Indeed, aggregate projections from the CDC released this week predict that US hospitalizations will increase next month. It’s the first time in weeks that forecasts predict a rise in hospitalizations, rather than a steady outlook.
“Without PHE, we would be limited in our ability to provide wide and equitable access to life-saving treatments through the Test to Treat initiative, for example, which relies on flexibility for telehealth and operations,” the official said. “Not renewing PHE would leave us with fewer tools to respond and mean more Americans would get seriously ill and end up in the hospital.”
The public health emergency declaration allows many Americans to obtain free Covid-19 tests, treatment and vaccines. Once it ends, people could face immediate costs depending on whether they are covered by Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. However, vaccinations will generally continue to be free for those covered by Medicare and private insurance, while state Medicaid programs will determine whether they will continue to cover vaccinations for their enrollees.
Also, Medicare has relaxed the rules governing telehealth so that many more beneficiaries can access such services during enrollment. Telehealth services are no longer limited to those living in rural areas, and enrollees can make home visits, rather than having to travel to a healthcare facility, and receive a wider range of services through telehealth. These flexibilities will end for most beneficiaries after the emergency ends.
And states don’t involuntarily exclude residents from Medicaid during enrollment in exchange for receiving more generous federal funds. As many as 14 million people could lose Medicaid coverage after the emergency ends, according to separate projections by Kaiser and the Urban Institute.
In addition, many low-income families are receiving enhanced food stamp benefits thanks to the declaration, although some states have ended their own public health emergencies and stopped increased payments.
A separate emergency declaration allows emergency use authorization for tests, treatments and vaccines. Its expiration date will be determined by the Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Its expiration date will be determined by HHS, and the company is committed to providing at least 60 days notice before any change
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins and Tami Luhby contributed to this report.