Covid Public Health Emergency ends: What is free and what will you pay for now

Posted at 5:14 PM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-12 10:22:46-04

MILWAUKEE — A milestone in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal Public Health Emergency ends Thursday night after more than three years in place. What does this mean when it comes to what you will now have to pay for if you need COVID care or testing?

"We have turned a corner in the pandemic,” said Dr. Ben Weston, chief health policy advisor of Milwaukee County.

"During the pandemic almost everything Covid related, whether it was vaccines or testing or treatment was all covered by the government. Basically, it was all subsidized that starts to go away. Now, what's covered depends on who your insurer is, or if you have insurance,” said Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW Health.

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Dr. Jeff Pothof, chief quality officer at UW Health

So what does that mean for you the consumer? According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, here is what people on Medicaid can expect to pay for or people who have private insurance.

If you need any Covid testing, it will be fully covered by Medicaid. If you have insurance, how much the test cost will be based on your plan.

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If you need medication to treat Covid, such as Paxlovid, those medications are free while supplies last with the federal government. After that, costs will vary based on insurance.

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Covid vaccines will be free and will remain that way, even for people with insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

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Telehealth, which was expanded during Covid, will be allowed to remain in place for most health issues. That access will be free to Medicaid patients and available through December 2024.

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Another big change, the data that was required by the federal government to be collected during the health emergency will go away.

"So we'll go back to less immediate ways to know that something's happening with COVID-19. Typically it now reverts back to hospital-level data or the reporting of positive Covid cases by hospitals. As you can imagine, that reporting can be delayed sometimes by as much as 30 days or so,” said Pothof.

But he does not want anyone to delay getting treatment for Covid because of potential costs. Pothof says just because the health emergency is ending doesn't mean there isn't help out there if you need assistance.

Dr. Shane Wilson performs rounds in a portion of Scotland County Hospital set up to isolate and treat COVID-19 patients Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Memphis, Mo. The tiny hospital in rural northeast Missouri is seeing an alarming increase in coronavirus cases. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

"For folks who are getting severely ill, and they need treatment in a hospital, quite frankly, I don't want anyone to defer their care because they're wondering about whether something's going to be paid for or not be paid for. If you can't breathe, at that point how much something costs probably isn't the driving factor, you really do need to get in, get seen. Then have folks in the hospital help you figure out what's covered, what's not covered, what programs might you be able to apply to,” said Pothof.

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services still has free Covid tests available through Say Yes! Covid test. They are available for Wisconsin residents until supplies run out.

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