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Lansing State Journal

The federal COVID-19 emergency is ending. What does it mean?

By Krystal Nurse, Lansing State Journal,

2023-03-15

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LANSING — Changes are expected to occur after a three-year-long federal health emergency comes to an end, signifying the country's shift in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Biden Administration announced on Jan. 30 it will end the federal public health emergency on Wednesday, May 11 . It's expected to have a domino effect on COVID-related services people sought for free in the past three years .

The World Health Organization announced on May 5 that COVID-19 is no longer a global public health emergency.

"We will always live with COVID," said Sparrow Health System Chief Clinical Officer and Dr. Paul Entler. "There'll be new variants, potentially new vaccines, new therapeutics. So, we understand that with like any other virus, that will always be here with us."

So what does that mean for Michigan residents?

Emergency declaration ending: Biden will end COVID-19 emergency declarations on May 11 after more than 3 years

I have private insurance. How am I affected?

One of Michigan's largest insurers, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, said in a statement tests administered by health care providers, a facility or lab will be charged according to a customer's copay and deductible for group and individual coverage. They were previously 100% covered under the emergency, Meghan O'Brien, public relations and social media manager, wrote in the statement.

The insurer is working to extend coverage for over-the-counter tests for those with pharmacy plans.

Vaccines, however, are likely to continue to be covered.

Lorraine Ryan, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services spokesperson, added the COVID-19 vaccines are a preventable measure that "generally must be covered without cost-sharing by most private health plans under the Affordable Care Act."

“Most forms of private health insurance must continue to cover COVID-19 vaccines furnished by an in-network health care provider without cost sharing," the agency said. "People with private health insurance may need to pay part of the cost if an out-of-network provider vaccinates them.”

What happens if I don't have insurance?

Federal subsidiaries on vaccines and tests will end. Those without insurance may be forced to pay out-of-pocket for tests and treatments.

McLaren Health Care Corp. Dr. John Brooks said he is concerned for older people, and Black and Latino Michiganders as they were hit hardest throughout the pandemic, according to the University of Michigan's Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation's January 2021 research.

He's an infectious disease specialist and led the health network's emerging pathogen response team.

"If they don't have access to access to testing and treatment, then it's going to create problems," Brooks said. "Then if they don't have free treatment, the free testing at home, and they don't isolate them, they spread."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2021 American Community Survey, 5.8% of all people in Ingham County don't have insurance. For Clinton and Eaton counties, 2.4% and 5% of residents, respectively, don't have insurance.

Access to Vaccines: People without insurance will still get free COVID vaccines once government's supply runs out

I'm on Medicare insurance, how am I affected?

For those with Medicare, the end of the health emergency won't change coverage limits on treatments. Tests, however, are free if ordered by a doctor and performed by a lab. Access to over-the-counter tests will end on May 11. Those with Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program insurance will have tests and treatments covered until Sept. 30, 2024.

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services , those with Medicare will have their vaccines fully covered. Those with Medicaid or Children's Health Insurance Program will have vaccines covered until Sept. 30, 2024.

I was able to get Medicare during the pandemic. Will that change?

Yes. A federal mandate that required agencies to continue Medicare coverage for someone even if their limits changed will expire on May 11. It grew Michigan's caseload by 700,000 people, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services said in a Feb. 15 release .

The state is recommending people update their personal information in their Michigan Bridge accounts by visiting Michigan.gov/MiBridges .

If someone no longer qualifies for Medicaid, they can acquire insurance on the marketplace .

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Can I get COVID-19 vaccines and antivirals for free regardless of insurance?

Not exactly. The end of the emergency removes the mandate to require COVID-19 vaccines and tests to be free, said Laura Hall, communications director at the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services.

Moderna and Pfizer said in February their vaccines will be free to everyone through their patient assistance program.

"Everyone in the United States will have access to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine regardless of their ability to pay," Moderna said in a statement on Feb. 15.

Pfizer added anyone without insurance can still get their vaccine for free.

Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson and Johnson, spokesperson said the company is committed to ensuring "equity and global access" to its COVID-19 vaccine.

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What about COVID-19 tests? Are they still available for free?

That depends on the type of insurance a person has. But private insurers won't be required to fully cover over-the-counter or laboratory tests after May 11 . Whether someone will have to pay for such services is dependent on their insurer, CMS wrote on its website.

At least in Greater Lansing, Sparrow Health isn't ending the drive-thru testing site at the Frandor Shopping Center. Entler said fewer people are using it than before, but it's staying due to patient convenience.

As everything dwindles and insurance coverages change, Brooks urged people to test if they feel ill and get vaccinated.

"There are still Americans dying, just not at the rate that it was before," he said. "And people are COVID fatigued. They're tired of talking about it, tired of hearing about it and just want it gone, but the virus, of course, doesn't care. It's here."

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Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at 517-267-1344 or knurse@lsj.com . Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse .

This article originally appeared on Lansing State Journal: The federal COVID-19 emergency is ending. What does it mean?

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