The COVID emergency declaration is ending: What it means for tests, vaccines, treatment

Editor's Note: On Feb. 9, federal officials released more information about what will happen once the public emergency ends, including a timeline for when free tests and vaccines will run out. Read more here.

For the past three years, most Americans have enjoyed access to free COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines regardless of insurance status thanks to unprecedented funding from the federal government.

But that's all about the change as the Biden administration plans to end both the national emergency and the public health emergency May 11.

Experts say access to COVID-19 services will now depend on insurance coverage through Medicaid, Medicare or private companies.

The end of the public health emergency may also jeopardize coverage for millions of Americans. Those who are uninsured, which is approximately 8% of the U.S. population, have few options for COVID-19 care, said Jodie Guest, professor and vice chair of the department of epidemiology at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health.

The Biden administration will be shifting health care costs associated with COVID-19 from the government back to individual Americans, she said. "Our insurance and health care system is pretty chaotic and very expensive, and we’re going back to that."

Based on insurance coverage, here's how the end of public health emergency services may affect you.

COVID-19 tests

Ordering free at-home tests through is likely to go away with the end of the public health emergency, experts say.

  • Medicaid: Free tests until 2024.

  • Medicare: No longer will receive at-home tests for free.

  • Private insurers: Varies by state and insurance company.

Polymerase chain reaction tests – known as the PCR tests – are considered "the gold standard" for detecting the COVID-19 virus, health experts say. But they may cost up to $100 if not covered, Guest said.

See previously: Labs are charging up to $14,000 for coronavirus tests. Insurers claim 'price gouging.'

COVID-19 vaccines

With the emergency declaration ending, there may be new economic barriers to getting vaccinated.

Manufacturers Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna sold their vaccines to the government for about $20 a dose, said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, professor of health policy management at City University of New York Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy.

But now, both companies said they're considering price hikes between $110 and $130, Lee said.

  • Medicaid: Free vaccines, no end date determined.

  • Medicare: Undetermined.

  • Private Insurers: Varies by state and insurance company.

While private insurance companies may be inclined to cover vaccines similar to annual influenza shots, Guest said nothing is guaranteed. Those without insurance coverage may have to pay the entire cost.

What's the future of COVID boosters? FDA panel moves toward simplifying shots.

COVID-19 treatment

There's not many treatment options for COVID-19 after the FDA announced last month monoclonal antibody Evusheld is no longer authorized to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection in the U.S.

But ending the public health emergency may limit access to the few drugs available, including antiviral Paxlovid from Pfizer, health experts say.

  • Medicaid: Covered until 2024.

  • Medicare: Covered through 2024.

  • Private Insurers: Varies by state and insurance company.

Lee also worries the lack of emergency funding and a return to the slow approval process may demotivate companies from funding research into more COVID-19 treatments and better vaccines.

LATEST: What to know about Paxlovid, the COVID antiviral that keeps people out of the hospital


Before 2020, most states had rules that limited access to telehealth services depending on where someone lived, Guest said. But COVID-19 and the public health emergency blew that door wide open.

"The availability of telehealth was no longer geographically restricted. There was an expansion of access, particularly through Medicare and Medicaid," she said. "There's some concern that a lot of people will lose access to telehealth" now that the declaration is ending.

Health experts worry this may disproportionately affect Americans living in rural areas and those with limited access to general health care services.

  • Medicaid: States to decide.

  • Medicare: Covered through 2024.

  • Private Insurers: Varies by state and insurance company.

Medicaid coverage

Before the pandemic, Medicaid recipients underwent a yearly review to make sure they still qualified, Guest said. The public health emergency paused that review and prevented states from taking people off Medicaid.

With that review process returning, millions of Americans are at risk for not qualifying and losing Medicaid coverage.

More: As pandemic-era provisions lapse, millions of Americans to lose Medicaid

Hospital funding

When the emergency declaration ends, it may mean hospitals won't get extra funding, health experts say.

"Hospitals received a 20% increase in the funds they wouldn't normally have if they discharged a COVID case alive," Guest said. "That will go away."

Health experts fear the lack of funding will lead to more hospital closures, particularly in rural areas, and will leave health care providers unprepared for future coronavirus waves.

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Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.

Health and patient safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part by a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Ethics, Innovation and Competition in Healthcare. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial input.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: End of COVID emergency declaration to affect tests, vaccines