What you need to know
- Free COVID-19 tests are now harder to find, but testing remains important.
- COVID-19 vaccines and treatments remain free for everyone for the near future.
- Some telemedicine flexibilities are being extended, while others are not.
The U.S. officially ended its COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11, marking a significant victory in our battle against a virus that has killed millions around the world. While the end of the public health emergency does not mean that COVID-19 is gone, it does mean that our access to tests, vaccines, and treatments will change. Here’s how you may be impacted by the next phase of the pandemic.
Can I still get COVID-19 tests for free?
The end of the public health emergency means that free COVID-19 tests are now harder to find.
- If you have private insurance: You are no longer guaranteed free at-home tests, but it’s possible your plan will continue covering them. You may also start facing cost-sharing for lab PCR tests.
- If you are on Medicare: You will no longer get free at-home tests, unless you have Medicare Advantage, which may continue to cover them. All Medicare plans will still cover lab PCR tests without cost-sharing.
- If you are on Medicaid: You will get at-home tests and lab PCR tests covered without cost-sharing through September 2024.
Regardless of what insurance you have or whether you are insured, you may be able to find free or low-cost at-home tests at health clinics, community health centers, public health departments, or other local organizations.
Can I still get COVID-19 vaccines and treatments for free?
The end of the public health emergency does not have immediate impacts on the availability of free COVID-19 vaccines and treatments. You can continue to get COVID-19 vaccines and future boosters for free through at least December 2024 regardless of whether you have insurance. The antiviral Paxlovid will also remain free for everyone as long as there’s a federal stockpile, which is expected to last for months. Once that stockpile is gone, the cost of Paxlovid will fall on patients and insurers.
- If you have private insurance: You may have to pay for Paxlovid after the stockpile runs out, depending on your health insurance.
- If you are on Medicare: You will continue to get Paxlovid and other FDA-authorized treatments covered, but you may face cost-sharing.
- If you are on Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program: You will be able to get all COVID-19 treatments for free without cost-sharing through September 2024.
Will I still be able to use telehealth services?
The public health emergency had allowed for many telemedicine flexibilities. Some of these are being extended, while others are not. If you’re on Medicare, telehealth services will remain covered through 2024. If you’re on Medicaid, telehealth services will also remain covered since they were a part of your insurance plan before the pandemic. Telehealth services through apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp will no longer be allowed. Health care providers will also no longer be able to prescribe controlled medications (such as Adderall and buprenorphine) via telemedicine without an in-person interaction, unless the Drug Enforcement Administration issues an extension to this flexibility.
Does the end of the public health emergency mean that COVID-19 is over?
No. While the end of the public health emergency is a huge victory, it is not a declaration that COVID-19 is over as a public health threat. We are no longer in an emergency situation, which should ease anxiety around the virus, but COVID-19 is still around and here to stay. Going forward, it’s important to continue staying up to date on vaccines and taking advantage of tests and treatments in order to prevent transmission and severe disease.
It can also be helpful to keep track of the virus’s spread in your region so you can mask up ahead of a significant wave or a new variant. Unfortunately, the end of the public health emergency means that a lot of these tools and resources will no longer be as easily accessible as they were during the emergency. But vaccines and Paxlovid remain free for everyone for now. Free or low-cost tests may be available at health clinics or community health centers. And COVID-19 hospitalization and wastewater surveillance data are good ways to track community spread.