U.S. to Extend COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Declaration

The federal government’s ongoing public health emergency (PHE) is expected to be extended again. Last month, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra announced the renewal of his department’s PHE determination with respect to COVID-19 in the United States. Wisconsin, like other states, has been working towards a potential July expiration of the PHE.

However, HHS has promised to provide states at least 60 days of notice prior to terminating the PHE for COVID-19. Given that no such notice was provided to states by mid-May, the PHE appears certain to be renewed again, putting its next potential expiration date in mid-October.

A PHE declaration lasts for 90 days and can be cancelled early or extended repeatedly at the HHS secretary’s discretion. Including the first COVID-related emergency declared on January 31, 2020, this is the tenth such determination.

The COVID-19 PHE has had many notable effects on healthcare policy, including:

  • Covering the cost of COVID-19 tests and vaccines and increasing funding and reimbursement rates for some health programs.
  • Allowing the U.S. Food and Drug Administrating (FDA) to issue an emergency use authorization (EUA), bypassing the normal regulatory process. The vaccines, drugs, and tests created to treat COVID-19 are or were initially authorized under EUAs. The FDA has also used EUAs to approve existing treatments and medical devices for a previously unapproved purpose (i.e., treating COVID-19).
  • Providing an additional federal share of Medicaid spending (FMAP) of 6.2 percentage points if states maintain specific standards, including “continuous enrollment” in Medicaid programs, meaning that states cannot disenroll anyone, even if a recipient is no longer eligible.
  • Relaxing restrictions on medical services provided via telehealth, which many providers have used extensively to reduce the need for in-person appointments.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has found that, from January 2020 to 2022, Medicaid enrollment grew by 15.7 million people nationwide. The foundation has estimated that by October of this year, 22 million more people will be enrolled in Medicaid than in January 2020. In Wisconsin, there are currently about 300,000 additional people on Medical Assistance (the state’s federally supported Medicaid program) than there were in January 2020.

The federal government has issued guidance for states on how to approach the Medicaid enrollment “unwinding.” States will be allowed up to 12 months to initiate eligibility redeterminations on the Medicaid population and work to transition non-eligible individuals to other health plans, like those on the exchange. The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has indicated it will utilize the full 12 months.