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What Changes with the End of the PHE

May 11, 2023

After more than 1,130 days and 104 million cases, the nation’s COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ends today.

Today’s expiration has been circled on the calendar for many health care organizations. Leading up to today, lawmakers, agency officials, and state and federal stakeholders have discussed which pandemic-era regulatory interventions should stay in place and which should return to “normal.”

Public health leaders have cautioned that the end of the PHE does not mean that the virus is no longer a threat, but it does mark a transition in our response. It also comes less than a week after the World Health Organization declared the end of the COVID-19 global health emergency.

“Still, we know so many people continue to be affected by COVID-19, particularly seniors, people who are immunocompromised, and people with disabilities,” the White House said in a statement this week. “That is why our response to the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, remains a public health priority.”

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Medicare and telehealth:  The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 extended many of the pandemic-era Medicare telehealth flexibilities through 2024, including the use of audio-only technology, allowing patients to stay in their homes for telehealth visits, and expanded access to telehealth beyond rural areas.
  • Data changes:  With the end of the PHE, the federal government will no longer be able to require lab test reporting for COVID-19. Hospital data reporting will continue as required through April 30, 2024, but will be reduced from daily to weekly.
    • Hospital admissions will replace the CDC’s “COVID Community Levels” to help assess the degree of community spread, CDC leaders said in a media call this week.
  • Masking in health care facilities:  Facility-wide masking can be recommended based on a local risk-assessment, taking into account exposure and outbreaks within individual units or areas—or if required by a public health authority.
    • Even if a facility does not require masking or respirators, individuals should be allowed to wear them based on personal preference (informed by their perceived level of risk for infection based on their recent activities), the CDC said.
  • DEA Changes:  This week, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced it planned to extend current flexibilities allowing the prescription of buprenorphine and other controlled substances via telehealth for six months—through November 11, 2023.
  • Vaccines and testing:  Prices for COVID-19 testing and treatment will vary depending on insurance coverage. Provider-ordered tests will still be covered by Medicare, but coverage will vary and is no longer required for private plans.

HAP continues to monitor the latest COVID-19 public health developments and provide updates to members. A federal fact sheet on the end of the PHE is available online. CMS also recently released a fact sheet on the PHE transition and frequently asked questions about CMS Waivers and Flexibilities.