The U.S. COVID health emergency is set to end in May. From the end of free COVID tests to the return of copays, here’s what it means for you

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The Biden administration plans to end the national COVID public health emergency on May 11, it said Monday, bringing to an end access to free COVID tests, treatments, and vaccines for many.

The announcement stunned many. The World Health Organization had announced earlier in the day that it would extend the global public health emergency for another three months, through April 30. And the Biden administration had just re-extended the national pandemic emergency status on Jan. 11, through April.

Still, the announcement is in keeping with the administration’s promise to give at least 60 days’ notice to states before ending the emergency, according to a Jan. 30 memo released by the Executive Office of the President. Lead time is important due to myriad implications of repealing the emergency status, including the anticipated loss of Medicaid coverage for millions of Americans.

Abruptly ending the emergency “would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the healthcare system—for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” the office wrote in the memo.

What are the implications for Americans?  Here’s what we know.

All Americans

Access to free vaccines and boosters for all Americans will continue until federal supplies run out, Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Vice President Cynthia Cox, said Tuesday via Twitter.

During the pandemic, all states and Washington, D.C., allowed providers licensed in other states to practice in their state via telehealth. In some states, this ability will end after May 11, according to KFF. In other states, this ability has already ended or been temporarily or permanently extended.

Medicare patients

Those on Medicare have received free at-home testing kits and testing-related services, as well as treatments like the antiviral Paxlovid. Access to free at-home testing kits and testing services will end on May 11. But access to some free oral antivirals will continue, according to KFF.

Changes to telehealth made during the pandemic that allowed Medicare patients who live in both rural and metropolitan areas to receive services at home and/or on a  smartphone will continue through Dec. 31, 2024, thanks to new legislation.

Medicaid patients

Those on Medicaid have received free COVID testing, treatments, and vaccines throughout the pandemic. Access to free testing and treatments will end on July 1 of next year, according to KFF. Free access to vaccines will continue indefinitely.

Millions of Medicaid patients risk losing coverage as soon as April, if they would have otherwise been found ineligible during the pandemic and were kept on solely because of it. KFF estimates that as many as 14 million Americans will lose Medicaid coverage between the spring of this year and spring of next.

Private insurance

Private insurance providers will no longer be required to provide free COVID tests, related services, and vaccines after May 11. They’ll be able to charge deductibles and copays for COVID tests and related doctor appointments, limit the number of tests they provide you with, and restrict covered COVID care to in-network providers, Cox said Tuesday via Twitter.


Uninsured patients will no longer receive guaranteed free access to COVID tests, vaccinations, and treatments after May 11.

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