Illustration of a COVID-19 microbe expanding.
Illustration: PGN

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What you need to know

  • We are in a much better place with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the virus is still around.
  • COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be free for most Americans, but tests and treatments will be harder to access, especially for people without health insurance.
  • Medicaid eligibility checks will resume on April 1. If you are currently on Medicaid, make sure your mailing address and contact information are up to date.

The COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. is officially entering a new stage. Last week, the Biden administration announced that the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies will end on May 11. As these two emergency declarations expire, the availability of some COVID-19 resources will become more limited. Below, we cover how this change will impact access to vaccines, tests, treatments, and more.

Will COVID-19 vaccines still be free?

Most Americans will still be able to get vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 for free after May. The ending of the two emergency declarations will not affect the FDA’s emergency use authorizations of our COVID-19 vaccines. However, once our current stockpile runs out, the vaccines will start to be covered by health insurance rather than the government.

This means that people with private insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid will continue to be able to get vaccinated and boosted at no cost. But there is no plan yet for people without insurance to access future COVID-19 shots for free. If you want to be protected, get your bivalent booster ASAP if you haven’t already.

Will I be able to get free at-home tests after May?

Free at-home tests will not be as widely available after the emergency declarations end. The government will end its at-home test delivery program through the USPS. Health insurers will no longer be required to reimburse up to eight at-home tests per month. To take full advantage of the current benefits, stock up on your allotment of free COVID-19 tests closer to the May deadline so that they don’t expire too soon.

Will COVID-19 treatments like Paxlovid still be free?

COVID-19 treatments will no longer be covered by the government after May, so the cost will fall on health insurers and individuals. But since the current national Paxlovid stockpile is so large, the antiviral will likely continue to be free for everyone until 2024. After that, people without insurance will have to pay out of pocket. People with insurance may also be responsible for part of their treatment costs, depending on their health care coverage.

How will my Medicaid coverage change?

Before the pandemic, states regularly checked whether people enrolled in Medicaid were still eligible. These checks were paused during the pandemic to provide people with continuous coverage, but they will resume on April 1. If you are currently on Medicaid, make sure your mailing address and contact information are up to date so that you can be notified of any changes to your coverage. If you do receive a Medicaid termination notice, know that if you appeal within 15 days of the notice, your coverage will remain in effect through the appeal process.

Does the end of the emergencies mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over?

We are in a much better place with the COVID-19 pandemic. This winter is the first one since the pandemic began during which we did not experience a major surge. But even as our COVID-19 emergency declarations expire, the virus is still around.

Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5, which is currently the dominant strain in the U.S., is the most transmissible strain yet, can evade previous immunity, and is resistant to many of our existing drugs and treatments. So even though COVID-19 metrics are trending downward, older adults, immunocompromised individuals, and people with underlying medical conditions remain especially vulnerable. There’s also no guarantee that the virus won’t continue to evolve in unpredictable ways.