Even consumers with insurance coverage now face copays and deductibles, especially if they head to the chain pharmacy down the street that is more convenient but out of their coverage network.

“Our plans will still cover testing, but they will have to be done in-network,” said Brian Mills, spokesperson for the Michigan Association of Health Plans.

And those bins of free tests at the local pharmacy? They’re likely to disappear as well. Since January 2022, private insurers were also required to reimburse for up to eight at-home rapid tests for each person they covered. That rule ends Thursday.

At least for a time, there will still be some places with free tests, but Michiganders might have to do a bit more work to find them.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will continue distributing free over-the-counter tests to all residents, regardless of income or address, via Project Act which runs through June this year. Additionally, federal funding is available through July 2024 to support continued free tests through the state’s partnership with Michigan libraries program, neighborhood and community testing sites and some federally-supported locations, said MDHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin.

For children, COVID-19 vaccines, Sutfin said, will continue to be available and will be unaffected by the end of the Public Health Emergency because of federal policies, including the Vaccines For Children program. Other federal programs will offer the vaccines to uninsured Michiganders through www.vaccine.gov, she said. And Medicare plans will continue to cover COVID vaccines and boosters.

Insurers likely will continue to cover vaccines as well, even if they aren’t required to do so, said Dominick Pallone, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, the insurers’ association.

“It’s a preventative medicine decision,” he said.

Data dwindling

Detailed COVID data — including the number of reported new cases in the state, the percentage of people who test positive, the availability of hospital beds and supplies — will no longer be required to be tracked as closely. 

As a result, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will stop tracking community spread levels across the nation.

Certainly, there’s a need for close surveillance during an acute disease outbreak, but at other times these requirements create a “burden of data collection,” said Sam Watson, senior vice president of field engagement at the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, an industry group.

Releasing health providers and others from the constant demands of data collection will allow them more time to react to new, emerging diseases, he said. And, he added, the pandemic has prompted hospitals to collaborate more closely to track disease spread and supply shortages — practices he doesn’t expect to change any time soon.

Some data, including hospitalizations, deaths and other metrics that build The Bridge Michigan COVID dashboard, will remain but may be tracked less often.

The U.S. public health emergency, first issued by President Donald Trump in March, 2020, and renewed more than a dozen times since, released emergency funds and allowed federal agencies and departments to relax some rules and enact others that allowed health providers to react more quickly and safely to an evolving virus, for example, by letting patients fill prescriptions without person-to-person contact, or allowing the expansion of telemedicine for routine exams or therapy sessions. 

Some rules were enacted behind the scenes for most Michiganders, while others have already expired. The feds discontinued extra food assistance during COVID in March. And after allowing everyone who had Medicaid to stay on their coverage without question for three years, a year-long process of reevaluating coverage eligibility is now underway

The legacy of a national emergency 

At its core, the years-long public health emergency allowed the federal government to provide average Americans free access to tests, treatment and vaccines against a deadly virus. 

The emergency’s termination on Thursday does not mean the end of COVID, or its lethal legacy. 

As of last week, more than 38,000 Michigan deaths were linked to COVID over three years. Labs confirmed more than 2.6 million cases of COVID; at the height of omicron in 2022, more than 17,000 new cases were being detected each day. On a single day in January, 2022, 5,009 people in Michigan hospitals were being treated for COVID.

Stiles Simmons, superintendent of the Westwood Community School District in Dearborn Heights, said he sees that fallout — a sort of low hum of uncertainty — every day in the faces of students. 

A child’s development, he said, depends on a stable framework on which to climb: the certainty of a parent’s income and a safe place to sleep at night, loving support, and a predictable schedule and expectations.

“But these kids saw their parents lose jobs and their families break apart,” Simmons said. “They saw loved ones pass away. They are less certain about their future.”

Source link