MICHIGAN — Residents of Michigan who don’t have health insurance can soon expect to pay for COVID-19 tests and treatment with the end Tuesday of a federal program that reimbursed providers for virus-related care.
One of the immediate implications of the expiration of the Trump-era provider relief program: People in Michigan and elsewhere who haven’t received their COVID-19 booster shots, or even the first in the vaccination series, should do so before April 5, the last day the Uninsured Program will accept vaccination claims.
The program has already stopped accepting claims for testing and treatment.
The reimbursement program was launched in 2020 with $100 billion in funding, and another $78 billion was appropriated later.
The White House’s decision to end the program — due to a lack of funding — also means that, after the end of April, hospitals and other health care providers in Michigan can no longer bill the government for things such as administering COVID-19 vaccines to people who don’t have health insurance.
The provider relief funding is ending as the numbers of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline across the country. But a new surge in cases in Western Europe has health officials and experts worried that cases may again go up in the U.S. as well.
Last month, the state Senate and House in Michigan approved a plan to appropriate $1.2 billion in federal funds to expand COVID-19 testing in schools as well as community testing, as well as to retain health care workers. The state still has nearly $5 billion left in unspent federal pandemic relief, MLive reported.
The number of cases of the BA.2 "stealth omicron" subvariant have started to increase in the metro Detroit area. As of Saturday, nearly 100 cases had been detected in 21 counties in Michigan, with 19 cases in Wayne County, The Detroit News reported.
The nation has come too far in its fight against COVID-19 to back away now, according to Dr. Michael Mina, a former Harvard University epidemiologist and now the chief science officer for eMed, a startup that makes at-home COVID-19 tests.
“When you have the time and space to breathe, that's when you prepare and make sure everyone's being taken care of, not when more and more people are dying every day,” he told NBC News, recalling how the government was caught unprepared with COVID-19 tests as omicron cases surged around the holidays last winter.
“You don't go to a race and start training and preparing the day of the race,” Mina said. “That would be a massive mistake.”
The Biden administration and Democrats in Congress are urging lawmakers to approve a new round of funding in the nation’s fight against COVID-19.
The White House wanted $22.5 billion in coronavirus funding in the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress earlier this month, but Democrats dropped the request amid disputes that threatened other priorities. Among the points of contention: Republicans wanted to reallocate coronavirus aid previously allocated to states.
Health advocates say continued funding is critical for about 28 million Americans who don’t have health insurance. Enrollment in Medicaid and children’s health insurance programs rose sharply during the pandemic to about 85 million people last fall, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Elimination of the provider relief fund deals a strong blow to “those who have the greatest risks, due to lower resources and less access to usual care,” Dr. Howard Forman, a professor of public health at the Yale School of Medicine, told NBC News.
Even people who have insurance may find themselves questioning if they can afford to get care, Forman added.
“Think about the person with a large deductible who would readily access a free monoclonal antibody clinic or testing site for testing and early treatment, but who might be afraid of large bills if they went to a private physician or even a hospital,” he told NBC.
The elimination of coronavirus spending in the omnibus bill has left the Biden administration's new COVID-19 road map in some doubt. The decision to save the fight for later underscores the deep partisan divides over the pandemic and the government's response to it but also shows the pandemic is no longer the government's top priority.
Without an infusion of cash in a provider relief program, COVID-19 patients without insurance likely will have to depend on their local hospital’s charity and financial assistance programs, which can vary greatly and can be difficult to navigate, according to Kaiser Health News.
The American Hospital Association, a trade industry group, said in a letter to congressional leaders Wednesday that it supports the Biden administration’s request for more COVID-19 assistance, including that earmarked for the provider relief program.
“While the nation remains weary and is eager to move past this pandemic, the virus continues to evolve and pose a threat to our nation’s health care system,” the hospital group said.
“The recent surge of cases and hospitalizations abroad fueled by the Omicron variant known as BA.2 serves as a critical warning: The battle is not over, and hospitals and health systems continue to need resources and flexibilities to care for patients and protect communities.”