During the difficult three years since the arrival of COVID-19, Americans have been aided by federal policies and programs that have helped us face the public health and global economic crises of the pandemic. In the coming weeks and months, many of these policies are being phased out, and people around the nation and across Pennsylvania will encounter new challenges and obstacles.
Here’s a run-down of some of the changes that lie ahead.
#1 Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
Under the March 2020 COVID relief law, states that receive enhanced federal Medicaid funding were barred from dropping individuals from the program during the emergency. When Congress passed its year-end omnibus spending bill in December, it included a provision ending the continuous coverage mandate on April 1, which will allow state governments to terminate coverage for millions. There are 3.6 million Pennsylvanians currently enrolled in Medicaid, and hundreds of thousands could lose coverage in the coming months. The majority of American children now receive their health insurance through Medicaid and CHIP, and as many as 6.7 million children are at risk of losing that coverage.
- CBPP: “States Should Streamline Medicaid Enrollment and Renewal for Older Adults and People with Disabilities Ahead of Unwinding” | 2/14/23
- RCPA: “DHS Provides Update on the End of the Pennsylvania Public Health Emergency, Medicaid, and CHIP” | 2/13/23
- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: “End of pandemic-era policy presents dilemmas for millions of Pa. Medicaid, CHIP recipients” | 2/9/23
- Associated Press: “Resuming Medicaid case checks confronts 3.6M in Pennsylvania” | 2/6/23
#2 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) emergency allotments — temporary benefit increases that Congress enacted to address rising food insecurity and provide economic stimulus during the COVID-19 pandemic — will end after February 2023 issuances. According to a recent analysis by the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities (CBPP), this will result in benefit cuts for more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians receiving SNAP benefits — 1 in 7 residents of the state — with an average monthly reduction of $174 per household. This will reduce SNAP benefits coming to Pennsylvania by $172 million, which will negatively impact the nearly 10,000 grocery stores and other retailers in the state that are authorized to redeem SNAP benefits.
- CBPP: “A Closer Look at Who Benefits from SNAP: Pennsylvania Fact Sheet” | 2/13/23
- Pennsylvania Capital-Star: “With a pandemic-era ‘lifeline’ ending this month, Pa. food banks brace for increased need” | 2/10/23
- WPSU: “Pennsylvania food banks brace for increase in demand as extra federal food benefits end” | 2/10/23
- Pennsylvania Department of Human Services: “End of SNAP Extra Payments”
#3 COVID Testing
The Biden administration’s plan to unwind the COVID public health emergency (PHE) on May 11 will spur a whirlwind of changes. During the pandemic, private insurers were required to provide or pay for eight free COVID tests per month during the public health emergency, but that provision will expire when the PHE does. At-home tests may become more costly for people with insurance, and people with traditional Medicare will no longer receive free, at-home tests.
Roll Call: “End of public health emergency causes cascade of changes” | 2/2/23
#4 COVID Vaccines
Until the supply of federally purchased COVID vaccines runs out, vaccinations will remain free to all people, regardless of insurance coverage. After the federal supply of vaccines is depleted, costs may become a barrier for uninsured and underinsured adults, as uninsured people will no longer be eligible for free vaccines through Medicaid. Both Moderna and Pfizer have announced plans to increase prices from the government rate of around $25 to $30 per dose to as much as $130.
Kaiser Family Fund: “The End of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency: Details on Health Coverage and Access” | 2/3/23
#5 COVID Treatment
People with public coverage may face new out-of-pocket costs for pharmaceutical COVID treatments, and Medicare beneficiaries may encounter increased expenses for treatments after May 11. Medicaid and CHIP programs will continue to cover all pharmaceutical treatments with no-cost sharing through September 2024.
Jeff Garis is PBPC’s Federal Campaigns and Program director,and he coordinates the 99% Pennsylvania campaign, advocating for federal policies that benefit all Pennsylvanians.