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Healthcare coverage from WYPR is made possible by support from GBMC HealthCare.

Marylanders could see change in health benefits as COVID-19 national emergency declaration ends

President Joe Biden greets Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, center, and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, right, as he arrives and before speaking about infrastructure at the Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel North Portal in Baltimore, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.
Andrew Harnik/AP
President Joe Biden greets Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, center, and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, right, in Baltimore to announce infrastructure plans. The Biden Administration has also made changes to end the COVID-19 national emergency declaration.

The federal government will end its national emergency declaration for the COVID-19 virus on May 11 and that change may have costly effects for people living in Maryland.

Expiring the emergency decree will change regulations for enrolling in Medicaid and shift the burden of who pays for tests and COVID treatments. There were 1.6 million people enrolled in Maryland's Medicaid program as of October 2022, according to data compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Josh Sharfstein, the former Maryland health secretary under Gov. Martin O’Malley, says Marylanders will no longer be automatically enrolled in Medicaid benefits.

“People are going to have to recertify for Medicaid,” Sharfstein said. “A whole lot of people in Maryland, who are enrolled in the Medicaid program, are now going to have to fill out forms or respond with information to make sure that they can stay covered.”

It’s not just automatic enrollment that will disappear this spring. The government will also likely stop supplying free tests and medications like Paxlovid, which is used to treat COVID.

The government will ask people to rely on their private insurance to cover the costs of those products, just like any other illness.

Sharfstein said the end of the decree is not only a shift in benefits; it also signals a change in thinking about COVID.

“As a general statement, it means that COVID is much more controlled than it was just a couple of years ago,” he said. “COVID is a threat like other health threat, so it makes sense to not treat it particularly differently than a whole bunch of other things that that we have to contend with.”

President Joe Biden announced the end to the emergency declaration on Jan. 30.

It has been in effect since March 2020 and extended multiple times.

About 500 people a day are still dying from the COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most recent seven-day average has about 40,000 people infected with the disease, according to the New York Times.

Sharfstien said it’s regrettable the benefits are ending.

“I don't think there is a perfect day to end the public health emergency like COVID, because it’s never going to be a moment when suddenly it's all gone,” he said.

Scott is the Health Reporter for WYPR. @smaucionewypr
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