End of Public Health Emergency Means Changes for COVID-19 Vaccines, Tests, Treatment, and Re-Enrollment for those on Medicaid
CDPH reminds public to get free tests now, check with their insurance providers about other pending changes
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CHICAGO – COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments will continue to be widely available in Chicago even as the federal Public Health Emergency declaration ends on May 11. The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) will also continue to closely monitor and publicly share local COVID-19 data, including local variant and wastewater data.
But Chicagoans should be aware of coming changes including that COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines will no longer automatically be at no cost for everyone. Health insurance companies, for example, will need to start paying for these COVID countermeasures for their members, rather than relying on the federal government. CDPH remains focused on supporting uninsured Chicagoans to continue to be able to access COVID vaccines and treatments.
Another important change is that those with Medicaid insurance coverage will again need to re-enroll in the program in order to maintain their benefits.
“The public health emergency may be ending, but this does not mean that COVID-19 has been eradicated. CDPH will continue to use all available tools to track COVID-19 locally, and take actions to prevent infections and severe outcomes for residents,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “As a city, we are ready to move forward but it’s very important that Chicagoans know about these coming changes.”
Arwady noted that COVID-19 cases and, most importantly, severe outcomes have declined significantly since the onset of the pandemic for a number of reasons: increased immunity due to vaccines and SARS-CoV-2 infections; a bivalent vaccine more closely aligned with circulating variants; and improvements in clinical care and outpatient treatments.
“But COVID-19 continues to circulate and still causes 150-200 deaths a day nationally, especially in older Americans who are not up-to-date with COVID vaccines and not taking the early treatments that help keep serious outcomes in check. I thank Chicagoans for helping us beat back this virus and ask everyone to stay up to date with vaccines to continue to protect our communities. I’m thrilled that COVID doesn’t have to be top of mind anymore, but it’s also not completely over,” said Dr. Arwady.
The following are some of the changes that Chicagoans can expect to see when the public health emergency ends on May 11:
Vaccines will still be widely available for all Chicagoans ages 6 months and up, including at doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers, City-operated clinics and the Mobile CareVan. For as long as these federally purchased vaccines remain available, COVID-19 vaccines will remain free for all Chicagoans, regardless of insurance coverage.
In April 2023, the Biden Administration announced that it will plan to buy discounted doses for community health clinics, pharmacies and federal, state, and local vaccination programs, including CDPH’s, that traditionally deliver vaccines to the uninsured. Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance providers will continue to pay for vaccines for adults and children. Go to Vaccines.gov to locate vaccine providers near you.
Both at-home rapid antigen tests and lab-based PCR tests will continue to be available in Chicago, although they may no longer be at no cost for everyone.
At-Home tests will continue to be available in pharmacies but after May 11, private insurance companies will no longer be required to pay for at-home tests, and Medicare recipients will no longer receive free at-home tests. Medicaid will continue to cover cost for at-home tests. Contact your insurance provider for more information.
The City will maintain tests and a distribution plan in the case of a surge.
Residents are encouraged to stock up on over-the-counter at-home tests before the end of the public health emergency.
- Those with Medicare and private insurance should aim to get additional free tests before May 11.
- In addition, while supplies last, every household can still have free tests mailed to them at home. Go to COVIDtests.gov and enter your mailing address.
Lab-based PCR tests will continue to be available at select pharmacies, hospitals and health clinics. Medicare and Medicaid will continue to pay for lab-based tests, but private insurance companies may decide to require co-pays for them.
Select pharmacies and health clinics will continue to offer free PCR tests through funding from CDC for those without insurance. Visit https://testinglocator.cdc.gov/ to find no-cost testing.
Therapeutics to treat and limit the severity of COVID-19, including Paxlovid, Molnupiravir, and Remdesivir (Veklury), will continue to be available after May 11 from physicians, hospitals and pharmacies.
Under the HHS Bridge Access Program, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention will contract with pharmacies to offer oral antiviral treatments with no out-of-pocket cost to uninsured individuals.
Medicare and Medicaid will continue to cover these treatments through at least September 2024 (Medicaid) and December 2024 (Medicare).
For those with private health insurance, coverage and out of pocket costs will vary based on their insurance provider and plan. Individuals should contact their insurance provider for more details.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Government instructed states to maintain continuous enrollment in Medicaid programs to ensure no one would lose access to health care coverage. This automatic re-enrollment in Medicaid is ending with the end of the public health emergency. Individuals and families that receive health insurance through Medicaid will need to be re-authorized for coverage.
The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) will be contacting Medicaid enrollees regarding eligibility redetermination. Information will be mailed to different households at different times, starting in May and continuing for the next 14 months, and it is important that residents make sure their addresses are up to date with HFS:
- Call the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) to report address changes: 1-877-805-5312 (select Option 8), TTY 1- 877-204-1012; Hours 7:45-4:30 Monday-Friday
- Use the HFS online change of address form to report new address, phone, email: www2.illinois.gov/hfs/address.
- Click Manage My Case at abe.illinois.gov to verify your address and find your due date.
- Chicago Department of Family & Support Services Community Service Centers can help. Locate service centers and phone numbers at: https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/fss/provdrs/serv/svcs/community_servicecenterlocations.html
Surveillance and data reporting
CDPH will continue to use all available data to track COVID-19 including data about cases, severe disease and healthcare burden along with variant and wastewater monitoring to inform public health activities. Weekly updates to the CDPH COVID-19 data dashboard will continue to be posted on Wednesdays at 5:30 pm.
After May 11, due to changes in data reporting streams as the public health emergency ends, CDC will no longer be able to calculate COVID-19 Community Levels (CCLs) and the indicator will be discontinued. CDPH will continue to monitor multiple local data sources to inform local public health guidance and interventions.
Even after the public health emergency ends, Chicagoans should continue to be aware of COVID-19 and remember the steps they can take to protect themselves, their loved ones and their communities:
- Stay up to date with COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines remain the best line of defense against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. This is especially important for older adults, people with disabilities, people who are immunocompromised, and people with underlying medical conditions.
- Effective treatments for COVID-19 are available. If you test positive for COVID-19, contact your healthcare provider, health department, or community health center to learn about treatment options. Treatment must be started within 5–7 days of developing symptoms to be effective.
- People can also protect themselves and others by wearing a mask, getting tested and staying home if experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and improving ventilation when indoors.
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