Lodi News-Sentinel

End of public health emergency causes cascade of changes

- Sandhya Raman, Lauren Clason, Jessie Hellmann and Ariel Cohen CQ-ROLL CALL

WASHINGTON — The Biden administra­tion’s plan to unwind the public health emergency tied to the COVID-19 pandemic will spur a whirlwind of changes related to telehealth, Medicaid, pharmaceut­icals and other priorities.

Many Republican­s have said the May 11 end date announced Monday is not soon enough, with the House voting this week on a bill to roll back that and three other pandemic policies immediatel­y. Democrats have said the time is needed to weigh which flexibilit­ies and funding may need to continue.

Still, U.S. plans to end the emergencie­s stand in contrast to the opinions of other global health leaders, with World Health Organizati­on Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu­s on Monday saying the pandemic is nearing a “transition point.” He aligned himself with a WHO committee that said it “requires a focused commitment of WHO, its Member States and internatio­nal organizati­ons” and that “longterm public health action is critically needed.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders, the incoming chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, also seemed wary.

“We are seeing a massive amount of sickness right now. And there’s no reason to believe — and I hope that it’s otherwise — that that’s going to change in the immediate future,” said Sanders, I-Vt.

But many argue that there is no longer a justificat­ion for the public health emergency, even though unwinding the flexibilit­ies associated with that will take time.

“You can even argue that there’s more tools to deal with COVID-19 than there are to deal with any other respirator­y virus,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

Cost sharing, payment changes

Ending the public health emergency means people will likely have to pay more out of pocket for COVID-19 testing and treatment, and planned price increases among COVID-19 vaccines and treatments have drawn congressio­nal scrutiny.

Both Moderna and Pfizer plan to increase :Hprices from the government rate of around $25 to $30 per dose to as much as $130.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachuse­tts and Peter Welch of Vermont accused Pfizer of “pure and deadly greed” over the news in December. Sanders labeled Moderna’s expected increase “unconscion­able” last month.

For the millions of people enrolled in Medicare, meanwhile, cost-sharing requiremen­ts for COVID-19 treatments will resume when the public health emergency ends. Enrollees will also likely have to pay full cost for at-home tests. The same goes for Medicaid beneficiar­ies, although cost sharing for testing and treatments will resume in 2024 under a provision in a COVID-19 relief law.

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