How the end of the COVID health emergency impacts testing, vaccines and treatment in Vermont
The federal government ended the national COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11.
And Vermonters will see changes in some of the insurance and health care benefits that the federal declaration established when it was put into place in January 2020.
Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine said the end of the public health emergency also marks a new stage in how the public will continue living with the virus.
“It’s really something that’s quite symbolic, if you will, because we’re in a different stage of life with the virus than we were throughout the pandemic years,” Levine said.
During the public health emergency, insurance companies were required to pay for at-home tests, and the federal government also provided tests free-of-charge through a mail-order system.
Those requirements are now over, though Levine says Vermonters should be able to find free tests into the immediate future.
“The state still has abundant home antigen tests, and municipalities often have these, either in libraries, town halls, and people can access free tests that way,” he said.
The Biden administration will also continue to send out tests free-of-charge through the end of May, and says the government has more than 600 million tests stockpiled in the event of future surges.
But insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont — which is the state’s largest insurance company — no longer have to cover the cost of at-home tests.
The company says provider-based tests will still be partially covered, depending on the coverage the patient has.
The changes at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont go into effect on July 1.
At MVP Health Care, spokesperson Michelle Golden says insurance customers for her company will also see changes in their plans.
"MVP is working through these many changes and is in the process of communicating updates to our customers and provider partners," Golden says.
The traditional Medicare program will also stop paying for tests, though Medicaid will cover the cost through September 2024.
A new report by the group KFF, which was formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that the average at-home test costs about $11.
The federal government purchased vaccines during the public health emergency, and in Vermont 80% of the population received their primary vaccinations.
The federal supply is expected to last through this summer, and so COVID-19 shots will remain free to the public.
After the federal supply is gone, the COVID vaccine will be treated like other vaccinations, and the cost will be dependent on insurance plans. Though the White House said people without insurance will be able to get free COVID-19 vaccines through 2024.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont says all its customers will continue to get COVID vaccinations and booster shots at no cost.
Patients on Medicare and Medicaid will continue receiving COVID vaccinations for free.
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont says some of its health plans will offer partial coverage of COVID-19 treatments such as Paxlovid.
The company encourages customers to call for specific information on the plans.
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