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Friday, January 27, 2023

End of COVID Will Leave US Healthcare Permanently Damaged, Experts Say

When the COVID-19 epidemic finally ends, it might cause enormous upheavals for a clumsy US health-care system that has been made more generous, flexible, and technologically up-to-date through a slew of temporary emergency measures.

The process of phasing out those regulations might start as early as the summer. This may compel an estimated 15 million Medicaid consumers to seek new coverage, need congressional action to safeguard Medicare enrollees’ extensive telehealth access, and destabilize COVID-19 guidelines and payment systems for hospitals, providers, and insurers. There are also concerns regarding how emergency COVID-19 treatment authorization will be handled.

The slew of problems is linked to the coronavirus public health emergency, which was proclaimed more than two years ago and has been repeated on a regular basis since then. It’s supposed to finish on April 16, but the Biden administration is expected to extend it until mid-July. Some people might like a longer exit ramp.

Transitions aren’t looking good for the United States’ complicated health-care system, which includes a mix of commercial and government insurance as well as a maze of laws and procedures. If health-care instability breaks out, it may cause Democrats and Republicans alike difficulties in the 2018 elections.

“The flexibility granted through the public health emergency has helped people stay covered and get access to care, so the key question moving forward is how to build on what has been a success while not losing ground,” said Juliette Cubanski, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation who has been researching the potential consequences of ending the pandemic emergency.

Medicaid, a state-federal health-insurance program for low-income people, now covers 79 million people, a new high owing in part to the epidemic.

However, the independent Urban Institute forecasts that after the public health emergency expires, roughly 15 million individuals would lose Medicaid, at a pace of at least 1 million each month.

Because of COVID-19, Congress raised federal Medicaid funding to states, but it also mandated that states maintain individuals on the rolls throughout the health emergency. In normal times, states disenroll Medicaid beneficiaries whose earnings exceed specific thresholds or who have other life circumstances that influence eligibility. When the emergency is over, the procedure will resume, and some states are ready to go forward.

Almost everyone who loses Medicaid is projected to be able to find other coverage, whether via their employers, the Affordable Care Act, or – for children — the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But, according to Matthew Buettgens, principal researcher on the Urban Institute study, it won’t happen by itself. Cost and a lack of knowledge about possibilities might be obstacles.

People who have been removed from Medicaid may not be aware that they are eligible for ACA coverage that is subsidized by the government. Because Medicaid is normally free, persons who are provided employment insurance may find the premiums to be too expensive.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation,” Buettgens remarked. “It’s true that there’s a lot of uncertainty.”

The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is recommending states to go slowly and link Medicaid clients who have been disenrolled with other options. The agency will keep a close eye on how states make eligibility choices. Officials from the Biden campaign want coverage changes, not losses.

“We’re focused on ensuring that the coverage improvements established under the Biden-Harris administration are maintained,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure stated. “We’re at our most powerful moment in history, and we’re going to make sure we keep the coverage increases.”

For many people who would lose Medicaid coverage, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — sometimes known as “Obamacare” — is a choice. However, it will be more expensive if legislative Democrats refuse to provide the considerable financial aid that President Joe Biden’s social policy requires. Democrats who obstructed the bill would be held accountable.

Officials from the state Medicaid program do not want to be blamed. The National Association of Medicaid Directors’ Matt Salo stated, “Medicaid has done its job.” “We’ve kept an eye out for physical, emotional, and behavioral health issues. We’re meant to right-size the program as we emerge from this disaster.”

When conventional medical consultations were suspended due to coronavirus shutdowns in 2020, millions of Americans found telehealth. In-person visits are once again the norm, although telehealth has shown to be effective and is becoming more widely accepted.

Millions of people on regular Medicare would lose access to telemedicine if the public health emergency ended. Prior to COVID-19, telehealth was restricted mostly to rural communities, in order to combat health-care fraud. Congress has given itself 151 days to come up with new guidelines after the public health emergency has ended.

“If no modifications to the legislation are made after then, most Medicare seniors would lose access to telehealth coverage,” said Cubanski of the Kaiser Foundation.

Enrollees in private Medicare Advantage plans, which often cover telehealth, are an exception. Nearly six out of ten Medicare beneficiaries, on the other hand, are enrolled in the traditional fee-for-service model.

COVID-19 vaccinations, testing, and treatments are widely available thanks to legislative power tied to the public health emergency.

The Biden administration, for example, has mandated that insurance cover up to eight free at-home COVID-19 tests every month.

What happens to tests, treatments, and vaccinations authorized under the Food and Drug Administration’s emergency use authorisation is a particularly hazy area.

According to some experts, emergency usage permits are only valid for the length of the public health emergency. Others argue that it’s not as easy as that, because immunizations, testing, and treatments are also covered by a different federal emergency act. Officials from the Department of Health have yet to provide a clear directive.

The FDA has given full approval to Pfizer-COVID-19 BioNTech’s vaccination for people aged 16 and up, as well as Moderna’s COVID-18 vaccine for those aged 18 and up, so their usage will not be affected.

Hospitals, on the other hand, may suffer a financial setback. They are currently paid 20% extra for the care of COVID-19 patients. Only for the length of the emergency will you be charged an additional fee.

In addition, Medicare beneficiaries would have to jump through extra hoops to be accepted for nursing home treatment. A previously suspended Medicare regulation mandating a three-day hospital stay will be reinstated.

Xavier Becerra, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, recently told The Associated Press that his department is dedicated to providing “ample warning” when the public health emergency is lifted.

“We want to make sure we’re not putting Americans who still need our services in jeopardy,” Becerra added. “Medicaid is the one that people are most concerned about.”

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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