Senate to vote again on ending COVID-19 national emergency, but PHE unaffected

The Senate is expected to vote on a resolution to end the COVID-19 national emergency as pressure grows on the Biden administration to unwind emergencies.

Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, is forcing another vote on a resolution to immediately end the COVID-19 national emergency, which former President Donald Trump instituted in March 2020. The potential vote—which won't affect the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE)—comes in response to President Joe Biden’s remarks earlier this week on "60 Minutes" that the pandemic is over

“The American people are fatigued and yearning to operate outside of the confines of supersized government,” Marshall said in a statement Thursday. The Wall Street Journal first reported Marshall’s efforts to create another resolution. 

The Senate narrowly passed a similar resolution back in March by a 48-47 vote. The House did not take up the resolution, and the White House issued a veto threat if the legislation made its way to Biden’s desk. 

The White House said in a statement back in March that the emergencies have helped prop up a healthcare system strained immensely by the pandemic.

“Actions by Congress to end these authorities abruptly and prematurely would be a reckless and costly mistake,” the statement said. 

Marshall is using an expedited parliamentary procedure for any emergency termination resolution. Because of the nature of the resolution, it must get a vote in the near future in the Senate. 

The resolution does not affect the COVID-19 PHE, which has made major changes to the healthcare system and expanded the use of telehealth.

While the resolution is likely to fail once again in the House, it underscores the political impact of keeping the PHE and similar emergencies, especially considering Biden’s remarks that the pandemic is over.

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has promised to give stakeholders a 60-day heads-up when the PHE will end.

Since no notice has been given, the PHE will most likely be extended for another 90 days this October. However, it remains unclear how many other extensions the PHE will receive. 

When the emergency eventually ends, it will have a major impact on the healthcare industry. At the start of the pandemic, the federal government raised the matching rate for Medicaid payments to states by 6.2%, but only if the state agreed to not drop anyone off Medicaid rolls for the duration of the PHE. 

States have 14 months after the PHE expires to fully redetermine eligibility for everyone on Medicaid and make any changes to enrollment.

The end of the PHE also means the demise of major flexibilities that enabled providers to get Medicare reimbursement for certain telehealth services. Congress did pass legislation that ensured the flexibilities remain for another five months after the emergency, and the House passed legislation that would keep the extension in place through December 2024.