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What to expect when COVID-19 emergency declarations end May 11

May 11 marks the end of COVID-19 emergency declarations. Payments for testing, vaccination and treatment will then shift to private parties and insurance companies.

“Just ordinary people with health insurance, I don't think they're going to notice that anything's different,” said Will Humble, executive director of the Arizona Public Health Association.

But that won’t be the case for people without insurance, or for those on Arizona’s Medicaid program AHCCCS, which will lose incentives to retain unqualified or uncertified members on its rolls.

“They will definitely notice a difference when it comes to getting vaccinated or even getting tested to see if they're positive for COVID-19, because the federal government will no longer be paying the bills anymore,” said Humble.

Flexibility regarding telehealth, CHIP programs, Medicare and Medicaid, and medical liability also will likely sunset.

Humble says hospitals administrators need to pay close attention upcoming adjustments, too.

“It’s going to change the way money flows; for example, the federal government was paying an extra 20% premium to hospitals when they treated patients who had COVID-19,” he said. “That's going to end.”

On the plus side, Humble thinks moving vaccinations and testing back to family doctors could improve continuity of care and help people get back on track after missing so many checkups during the pandemic.

“The end of the public health emergency will drive more traffic, especially when it comes to booster time, towards people's regular doctor rather than going to pharmacies for vaccines and so forth,” he said.

The milestone also removes the federal government’s current legal justification under Title 42 for refusing and expelling asylum seekers.

COVID-19 isn’t over: The disease still kills about 1,000 Americans each week; U.S. hospitals currently hold about 13,000 COVID-19 patients; and long COVID-19 stubbornly resist efforts to understand it.

But no system can stay on an emergency footing forever, and experts like Humble say the present lull is as good a time as any to switch gears.

“It’s an appropriate time — actually, maybe even six months ago would have been an appropriate time — to start treating COVID-19 like any other illness," Humble said. 

Nicholas Gerbis joined KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk in 2016. A longtime science, health and technology journalist and editor, his extensive background in related nonprofit and science communications inform his reporting on Earth and space sciences, neuroscience and behavioral health, and bioscience/biotechnology.Apart from travel and three years in Delaware spent earning his master’s degree in physical geography (climatology), Gerbis has spent most of his life in Arizona. He also holds a master’s degree in journalism and mass communication from Arizona State University’s Cronkite School and a bachelor’s degree in geography (climatology/meteorology), also from ASU.Gerbis briefly “retired in reverse” and moved from Arizona to Wisconsin, where he taught science history and science-fiction film courses at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He is glad to be back in the Valley and enjoys contributing to KJZZ’s Untold Arizona series.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gerbis focused almost solely on coronavirus-related stories and analysis. In addition to reporting on the course of the disease and related research, he delved into deeper questions, such as the impact of shutdowns on science and medicine, the roots of vaccine reluctance and the policies that exacerbated the virus’s impact, particularly on vulnerable populations.