At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a federal public health emergency. The public health emergency impacted the cost of COVID-19 tests, vaccines and treatments; flexibility around telehealth appointments; and added flexibility for providers, and is set to expire on May 11.
Here’s what that means for uninsured people, Missourians who use MO HealthNet, the state’s Medicaid program, and folks on Medicare. People with private insurance should contact their carriers or review their plans.
Can I still get tested for COVID-19 at no cost?
While the Springfield-Greene County Health Department will no longer conduct COVID-19 testing, Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services will continue to offer free tests of charge through June to everyone, at least. These units also test for RSV and the flu.
In Springfield, testing is available 10 am to 6 pm on Wednesdays, in the parking lot of the Teamster’s hall, 1850 E. Division St.
People can find additional Missouri locations on this map, including in Marshfield and Joplin.
more: Greene Co. health dept. will end COVID-19 testing, close call center on May 12
The federal government will also continue to distribute tests through COVIDtests.gov through the end of May.
For those who are uninsured: Depending on resource availability, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Increasing Community Access to Testing program will continue to offer no-cost testing.
For those with Medicare: For those with traditional Medicare, PCR and antigen lab tests will have no cost-sharing when ordered by a physician or some other health care provider. Cost-sharing may change for those with Medicare Advantage once the public health emergency ends. Beneficiaries should check their plan for specifics.
For those with MO HealthNet: COVID-19 testing will be covered without cost-sharing until Sept. 30, 2024.
Will I still be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine for free? Can I still access treatments like Paxlovid?
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, Americans will still be able to receive COVID-19 vaccines at no cost after the public health emergency ends due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program Provider Agreement. COVID-19 vaccines that have been recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices are considered preventive health services.
However, “once the federal government is no longer purchasing or distributing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, payment, coverage, and access may change” especially depending on a person’s health insurance.
For those who are uninsured: HHS is implementing a program to make sure they have broad access to COVID-19 care, including vaccines, at local pharmacies, through public health departments and at their local health centers.
For those with MO HealthNet: COVID-19 vaccinations will be covered without a co-pay or cost sharing through Sept. 30, 2024. Treatments will be covered without cost sharing through Sept. 30, 2024.
For those with Medicare: COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be covered under Medicare Part B without cost sharing. Medicare Advantage plans must also continue to cover COVID-19 vaccines administered in-network without cost sharing.
more: If you’re one of 1.4M Missourians on Medicaid, confirm your contact info before April 1
Is my telehealth access changing?
During the pandemic, the Public Health Emergency declaration eased restrictions on telemedicine that made it easier for people to seek care without an in-person visit. In 2021, more than a third of adults use telemedicine, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For Medicare: Flexibilities in place due to the public health emergency will be extended until Dec. 31, 2024. That includes access to telehealth services in any geographic area in the United States; ability to stay in their homes for telehealth visits that Medicare pays for rather than traveling to a health care facility to conduct the visit; and for certain telehealth visits can be delivered audio-only (such as a telephone) if someone is unable to use both audio and video, such as a smartphone or computer.
For MO HealthNet: Missouri’s Medicaid program MO HealthNet will only see “two notable changes” to telemedicine services once the public health emergency ends, according to Heather Dolce, communications director for Missouri’s Department of Social Services:
Telemedicine providers must be fully licensed in Missouri;
Patients will no longer simply be able to complete a questionnaire to establish a relationship with the provider. The relationship may be established via telemedicine, but the visit will require an interview and examination as thorough as they have been done in person.
“Missouri Medicaid participants have benefited greatly from access to telemedicine and our providers have embraced this delivery model, particularly in areas where access to providers can be difficult,” said Todd Richardson, MO HealthNet division director. “We are committed to preserving access to telemedicine on a permanent basis moving forward.”
more: Will the end of COVID-19 emergency impact telehealth for Medicaid, Medicare beneficiaries?
What else might change?
A few other things will change in Missouri after the public health emergency ends, mostly for health care providers. Details can be found on the Department of Social Services website.
Some examples include:
During the pandemic, a provider could call in a prescription for durable medical equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, glucose testing strips, etc.), but after May 11, they will need to provide a written prescription;
During the pandemic, private duty nursing program participants did not need to have on-site annual performance evaluations. Performance evaluations between May 11 and Nov. 11 must have at least one on-site visit, and performance evaluations after Nov. 11 must have two on-site evaluations;
During the pandemic, home health agencies were allowed to perform initial assessments remotely or by reviewing records, but after May 11, they will have to resume performing initial assessments in person.
Susan Szuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story ideas? Email her at [email protected].
This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: End of COVID-19 public health emergency brings changes for Missourians