US to end Covid-19 emergency declarations on May 11

The emergency declaration allowed Americans special access to Medicaid and flexible access to telehealth services. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The White House will end a pair of Covid-19 emergency declarations on May 11, the latest signal that the administration is winding down its fight against the virus. 

The national emergency and public health emergency will be extended to that date and then lifted, the administration said on Monday in a statement of policy on Bills related to the measures. 

The step is a milestone in a coronavirus response that dominated much of the early weeks of President Joe Biden’s administration.

The White House released the statement of administration policy in response to a pair of measures proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives that would terminate the public health emergency and national emergency. 

The Biden administration said that it “strongly opposes” the enactment of the measures, and that its wind-down in May would provide more time for states to prepare for the changes. 

The United States pandemic response has gradually shifted to the background, even as uptake of the latest vaccine booster shot remains modest.

About 500 people are dying each day from Covid-19, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention data show. 

At the same time, the World Health Organisation said earlier on Monday that the global health emergency declaration remains in place.

The decision by the United Nations agency was made after a meeting held by the Covid-19 emergency committee last Friday.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he remains hopeful that the “world will transition to a new phase” in the coming year.

On Jan 11, the US Department of Health and Human Services extended the Covid-19 public health emergency once more through mid-April, maintaining measures that have expanded access to healthcare for millions of Americans since the original declaration was made by the Trump administration in January 2020. 

The Biden administration said in the Monday statement that it would extend the public health emergency even further – to May 11.

The White House declined further comment. The Department of Health and Human Services did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Biden administration has promised to give states 60 days’ notice before ending the public health emergency to allow sufficient time to prepare for changes to programmes and regulatory authorities.

The emergency declaration allowed millions of Americans special access to Medicaid, the state and federal programme that provides health coverage to low-income people, and also created flexible access to telehealth services. 

The administration said it was providing advance notice, as “an abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the healthcare system”.

The public health emergency allowed Medicaid to keep patients continuously enrolled through the end of the special designation. As a result, Medicaid enrolment has increased significantly from pre-pandemic levels.

Congress declared in its year-end spending Bill an end to the continuous enrolment provision at the end of March.

Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that between five million and 14 million people could lose Medicaid coverage when the provision is dismantled.  

Republican lawmakers have long demanded the Biden administration end the public health emergency, criticising it as a heavy-handed form of government intervention.

Health policy experts supporting the designation argued that the health department must ensure protection for vulnerable people before unwinding the emergency designation, especially during the winter, when the risk of coronavirus transmission rises and burdens the health system.  BLOOMBERG

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