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But expansions of key safety net programs that involve states are no longer tied to the directive and are already set to wind down.
At long last, the Biden administration announced the Covid public health emergency will end May 11. The move comes about three years after the directive was first issued.
While public health officials spent much of the last year on edge in anticipation of the declaration’s termination, its effects on states won’t be as dramatic as many had previously feared. That’s because the “omnibus” spending law that Congress approved in December broke the ties between the public health emergency declaration and the expanded Medicaid benefits that have covered millions of Americans since the start of the pandemic.
It’s been about three years since the public health emergency in response to Covid-19 was first declared in January of 2020, under then-President Donald Trump.
In the spring of that year, Congress prohibited states from removing people from Medicaid for as long as the public health emergency declaration remained active. It also increased the federal government’s share of Medicaid, known as the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, by 6.2%.
The declaration was renewed every 90 days, making it difficult for public health officials to know when to prepare for reduced federal funding or begin unenrolling recipients who are no longer eligible for Medicaid, which provides health coverage for low-income and disabled Americans.
But with the $1.7 trillion Congressional spending package, states were given an April deadline to begin removing recipients. The legislation included requirements states need to meet before doing so in an effort to ensure fewer residents lose coverage by mistake.
The law also calls for gradually sunsetting the elevated federal funding for state Medicaid programs rather than terminating it all at once “to ensure that patients did not lose access to care unpredictably and that state budgets don’t face a radical cliff,” the White House said in a statement Monday. States will receive the last of the enhanced funding in December.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a watchdog group, last year estimated the federal cost of providing the enhanced Medicaid match to states at around $90 billion for 2022.
Since the pandemic began, the number of people enrolled in Medicaid and the related Children's Health Insurance Program ballooned to about 91 million by last fall, a roughly 28% increase from 2020. It’s difficult to determine just how many people will lose coverage in the coming months as states reevaluate enrollees’ eligibility, but the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates it could be between five million and 14 million.
The public health emergency also boosted the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, sometimes referred to as food stamps, which gave families additional vouchers for food each month. Those expanded benefits are also set to end in February, though many states have already ended the emergency allotments.
The end of the public health emergency also means some Americans will likely have to pay for Covid testing and treatment, which many people have become accustomed to receiving for free.
Molly Bolan is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.