White House plans to end COVID emergency declarations May 11

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

The end of the emergency declarations signals a new chapter in the Biden administration's response to the COVID pandemic. The public health emergency was enacted by the Trump administration in 2020 and has been extended multiple times in the past two years.

An average of more than 500 people in the U.S. are still dying from COVID-19 each day, about twice the number of deaths per day during a bad flu season, The New York Times reported.

The White House's plan to end the public health declaration May 11 came in a statement opposing two House bills that would end the emergency declarations sooner.

"This wind-down would align with the Administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE," the White House said in a statement (PDF).

That 60 days' notice could help stakeholders prepare for the removal of major flexibilities for the use of telehealth, including the waiver of originating site requirements and other barriers to reimbursement for telehealth use. 

The end of the emergency will also mean states must start the arduous task of redetermining Medicaid eligibility. 

"Ending these emergency declarations in the manner contemplated by H.R. 382 and H.J. Res. 7 would have two highly significant impacts on our nation’s health system and government operation," the statement said. "An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system—for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans."

The Biden administration also said an abrupt end to the public health emergency would result in "millions of patients, including many of our nation’s veterans, who rely on telehealth would suddenly be unable to access critical clinical services and medications. The most acutely impacted would be individuals with behavioral health needs and rural patients."

Once the public health emergency ends, so do flexibilities and waivers that have been frozen in place for several years.

There has been clarity, however, on key parts of the public health emergency such as flexibilities to make it easier for providers to get reimbursed by Medicare for telehealth services. Congress passed a law late last year that extended through 2024 flexibilities such as waivers of originating site requirements.

Congress' end-of-year spending package gave key clarity on another part of the public health emergency: the end of the continuous coverage requirement for Medicaid. 

At the start of the pandemic, the federal government boosted the matching rate for Medicaid payments to states, but only if the state would not drop anyone off Medicaid’s rolls for the duration of the public health emergency. The spending package, however, enabled states to start Medicaid eligibility redeterminations April 1.