MEMPHIS, Tenn. — After more than 3 years the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency (PHE) officially ends Thursday, May 11.
The World Health Organization (WHO) ended its COVID-19 emergency declaration last Friday and most countries have already ended their states of emergency and lifted most public health restrictions as well.
For some during the COVID-19 emergency waivers that allowed expanded access to care will go away on a federal level with some losing coverage if their state chooses not to continue those waivers.
Today some health officials reflect on the lessons learned and the possible impact ending some of those COVID-era protocols could have on the healthcare system here in Tennessee and Shelby County.
"We were stepping into areas and unchartered territory that we had never experienced before," Shana Roberts the clinical director of Methodist Germantown said.
It’s a move that comes after years of social distancing, mask-wearing, and other guidance on a federal, state, and local level.
“We're in a much better situation and that sort of prompted the ending of some of these programs," Dr. Steve Threlkeld the medical director of infectious disease at Baptist Memorial Healthcare said. "There’ll hopefully not a lot of difference as you look around you in the first days to weeks to months, after this change.”
In the days to come access to COVID-19 testing will somewhat change. Free testing kits from the federal government will no longer be available. But insurance companies are now only required to cover COVID-19 tests if you’re on Medicaid also known as “TennCare” here in the state of Tennessee.
This is because of the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in 2021. The law requires Medicaid to cover COVID-19 testing, vaccines, and treatment services until September of 2024.
For those who don’t use Medicaid COVID-19 treatments like vaccines will still be free while federal supplies last.
Doctors say even though the federal government is transitioning away from the emergency phase COVID-19 remains a public health priority.
"Good old-fashioned handwashing, you know, wearing protective equipment in the appropriate situations and just being careful is going to be very important moving forward," Dr. Threlkeld said. "And I don’t know that we’ve fully learned that because of COVID, but I think it’s certainly been executed and kind of in our face and hope that we’d take those lessons kind of move forward.”
Congress passed legislation that ends the Medicaid continuous enrollment requirement related to the COVID-19 pandemic on April 1, 2023. At that time TennCare was required to reverify the eligibility status of everyone receiving TennCare or CoverKids benefits. One of TennCare’s top priorities during this process is to make sure all eligible members do not risk a gap in health care coverage. Over a 12-month period, TennCare will review every member’s edibility. For more information click here.