Updated Jan 31, 2023 - Health

COVID-19 health emergencies to end in May, White House says

President Joe Biden leaves Holy Trinity Catholic Church after attending Mass on March 27 in Washington, D.C.

President Biden leaves Holy Trinity Catholic Church after attending Mass on March 27 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

The Biden administration plans to end the COVID-19 public health emergency and national health emergency designations on May 11, the White House announced Monday.

The state of play: The move shifts the debate around GOP resolutions ending the two emergencies, which were set to be voted on in the House this week as a referendum on the incompatibility between President Biden’s statements on the pandemic and the administration’s policy.

  • Instead of acting as a check on sweeping emergency powers and the administration’s COVID posture, the votes are now a question of whether the emergencies should be ended immediately or several months from now — likely limiting the prospect of bipartisan support.
  • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in its statement announcing the plan to end the two emergencies, argued they should be phased out with advanced warning rather than terminated suddenly.
  • “An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system,” the OMB said.

Zoom in: The Biden administration is also accusing Republicans of contravening their party’s support for Title 42, a Trump-era policy facilitating the expedited expulsion of migrants that has been kept in place by the Supreme Court despite the administration’s attempts to end it.

  • Voting to terminate the public health emergency immediately, the OMB claimed, “would lift Title 42 immediately, and result in a substantial additional inflow of migrants at the Southwest border.”
  • Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), who introduced the bill ending the public health emergency, told Axios, "It absolutely does not end Title 42. That's just not accurate."

The other side: House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Axios the House will move forward with the votes.

  • “Why would you allow 47% of the government to stay home for another five months,” he said, adding, “The president said in September [the pandemic] was over.”
  • Guthrie said the House should still pass it so Congress can be prepared to push back "if for some reason [the White House's plans] don't come to fruition."

Where it stands: For health care providers, ending the public health emergency will bring big changes.

  • They've had significant leeway on reporting requirements, physical environment standards, patients’ rights and other policies over the last three years due to the emergency.
  • Congress extended telehealth flexibilities in December and laid out a plan for states to start removing ineligible people from Medicaid. But unless lawmakers or regulators act, plenty of other policies will expire with the emergency designation.

Go deeper: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services doesn’t have data on how many providers currently use the flexibilities, as providers don’t need to notify the agency to use them, a spokesperson told Axios last week.

  • CMS is encouraging providers to begin preparing for the end of pandemic-era flexibilities as soon as possible, the spokesperson said prior to the White House’s announcement.
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