On May 11, 2023, the public health emergency (PHE) declaration will end. Among other policy implications, the end of the PHE will impact health policy measures associated with access to COVID-19 testing and treatment.
Use the following topline messaging as a guide to help keep your constituents informed about what the end of the PHE means and does not mean. While the end of the public health emergency declaration has many implications, this guide is designed to communicate the information that is most relevant to the general public. We recommend adapting messaging for your local context.
Does the end of the public health emergency mean COVID-19 is over?
No. COVID-19 cases are down sharply, but the end of the emergency declarations does not mean the virus is no longer a threat. The virus remains a leading cause of death in the United States, with about 250 daily deaths on average. Visit CDC’s website and your state and local health departments for information about local infection rates and recommended precautions.
CDC continues to advise that everyone stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations, use at-home tests if they’ve been exposed or have symptoms, stay home if they’re sick, and wear a high-quality mask when COVID-19 levels are high. These precautions are the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.
How will the end of the public health emergency affect community members?
When the public health emergency ends, COVID-19 vaccines will continue to be free for all, as long as the supply of federally purchased vaccines lasts. However, access to and cost of testing and treatment will vary on whether they have public, private, or no health insurance.
Topline Messaging, By Topic:
- Vaccines will remain free for everyone when the public health emergency ends. As long as the supply of federally purchased vaccines lasts, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free.
Testing and Treatment
- Coverage for COVID-19 testing and treatment will vary by insurance type.
- For people with Medicaid coverage, COVID-19 testing and treatment will remain covered at no cost through September 2024.
- For those without insurance, COVID-19 testing and treatment will no longer be covered, and the cost will be determined by individual providers. However, free tests and treatment may be available at local free clinics or community health centers.
The following is a breakdown of key policy changes related to vaccines, testing, and treatment, along with key information on what will remain the same when the public health emergency ends. This is not an exhaustive list of all policy changes: health departments and other organizations should consult federal and state authorities.
The availability, access, and costs of COVID-19 vaccines, including boosters, will not be impacted by the end of the public health emergency since vaccine access, cost, and distribution are determined by the supply of federally purchased vaccines, not the public health emergency. As long as the federal government’s supply of vaccines lasts, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free to all people, regardless of insurance coverage.
Once the federal supply of vaccines is depleted, vaccines will continue to be available and free for most people with private and public insurance.
The end of the public health emergency declaration will impact coverage for COVID-19 testing, including at-home, PCR, and rapid tests.
At-home testing coverage:
- Medicare: People with traditional Medicare coverage will no longer receive freeat-home tests.
- Medicaid: People with Medicaid coverage will have at-home tests covered at no cost through September 2024. After that date, COVID-19 at-home testing coverage will vary by state.
- Private insurance: People with private insurance and private Medicare plans (such as Medicare Advantage) will no longer be guaranteed free at-home tests. However, some insurers may continue to choose to cover them at their discretion.
- No insurance: People who are uninsured will continue to pay full price for at-home tests. Those who are uninsured or who cannot afford at-home tests may still be able to find them at a free clinic, community health center, public health department, library, or other local organization.
- Looking for more communications resources about COVID-19 at-home tests? Find messaging and sample graphics in PHCC’s toolkit: When to Take an At-Home COVID-19 Test.
PCR and rapid antigen testing coverage:
- Medicare: People with traditional Medicare coverage will continue to receive free PCR and rapid antigen tests administered by a provider, but there may be a copay for the associated doctor’s visit.
- Medicaid: People with Medicaid will continue to receive free PCR and rapid antigen tests through September 2024. After that date, COVID-19 PCR and rapid antigen test coverage will vary by state.
- Private insurance: Coverage for PCR and rapid antigen tests will vary by insurer. People with private insurance and private Medicare plans may be subject to copays, depending on the plan. Some insurers may also begin to limit the number of covered tests or require tests to be done by in-network providers.
- No insurance: People who are uninsured can continue to purchase tests. Those who are uninsured or who cannot afford PCR and rapid antigen tests may still be able to access them at a free clinic or community health center.
COVID-19 pharmaceutical treatments purchased by the federal government, such as Paxlovid, will continue to be free to the public, regardless of insurance coverage.
COVID-19 treatments not purchased by the federal government may require a copay:
- Medicare: For people with Medicare, some COVID-19 pharmaceutical treatments may require a copay.
- Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) coverage: People covered by Medicaid and CHIP programs will continue to receive all pharmaceutical treatments at no cost through September 2024. After that date, these treatments will continue to be covered, but states may set limits on usage and may impose a copay on some COVID-19 treatments.
- Private insurance: Coverage for COVID-19 treatment will continue to vary by private insurer. Most people with private insurance coverage will continue to incur cost-sharing for COVID-19 treatments, with the exception of treatments that are currently free to everyone, such as Paxlovid.
- No insurance: People who are uninsured will continue to pay out of pocket for COVID-19 treatments, except for federally-funded treatments like Paxlovid, which are free for everyone. People may continue to find low- and no-cost options at community health centers.
Here are some questions to consider when you are communicating about COVID-19 and the end of the PHE.
Who is your audience?
The more specific you can get about your audience, the more effective you can be in providing useful, relevant information. Consider:
- Do I know what type of insurance my audience has? Am I specifically targeting people with public, private, or no insurance?
- Am I communicating with individuals or organizations? If an organization, what kind of organization—school, employer, business, health care facility, etc.?
What do you want your audience to do with this information?
- I want my community to follow specific guidance.
- I want constituents to reach out to their insurer if they have questions about specific coverage.
- I want community members to share this message with friends or family.
- I want trusted messengers to help amplify this information.
What is your local context?
- Local or state policies or active emergency declarations that will directly impact your community.
- Your county’s COVID-19 Hospital Admission Level.
Read our Plain Language for Public Health Guide for more tips for effective, relevant, and accessible communications.
- Fact Sheet: COVID-19 Public Health Emergency Transition Roadmap, Department of Health and Human Services.
- The End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Details on Health Coverage and Access, Kaiser Family Foundation.
- The End of the COVID-19 Emergency: What Employers Need to Know, Health Action Alliance.
- COVID-19 emergencies will end in May – What does this mean for you?, Public Good News.