When the COVID-19 pandemic first began here in the U.S., the federal government implemented special emergency declarations that allowed them to quickly respond to the spread of COVID-19 as well as address financial barriers to care related to COVID-19. On May 11, 2023, the Federal Public Health Emergency Declaration expires, which means there will be changes to the way some people receive care related to COVID-19, such as testing, treatment, and vaccines.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not over
The expiration of the state of emergency does not mean that the pandemic is over, as COVID-19 continues to circulate in our communities and severe disease occurs especially among those with risk factors. But it would end the flexibility the government has for some efforts against COVID-19.
“Although we are now in a very different place in the COVID-19 pandemic with the availability of effective COVID-19 vaccines and other treatments, ensuring access to these interventions is critical. We continue our work with federal and state policymakers to highlight the importance of supporting low-barrier access to these life-saving interventions, especially for people who lack insurance coverage.”
said Dr. Eric Chow, chief of infectious disease epidemiology.
The virus that causes COVID-19 is still spreading in our communities and continues to mutate and evolve over time. Although community immunity has increased over time from both vaccinations and natural infection, everyday people in King County are still getting sick from COVID-19. People are still regularly hospitalized and even dying from COVID-19, especially among those who are older and have underlying medical conditions. It’s still important to take steps to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19, including keeping up with recommended vaccinations, staying home when you’re sick, wearing a well-fitting, high-quality mask when in crowded places locations, and testing when you have symptoms.
How to get a COVID-19 vaccine after the state of emergency ends
The federal government has purchased a large supply of COVID-19 vaccines that is expected to last through the summer of 2023. COVID-19 vaccines will remain free for all people, even if they do not have insurance, until the national vaccine supply runs out.
After the federal vaccine supply runs out later this year, COVID-19 vaccines will move to the private market.
Following the shift of vaccines to the private market, we expect that the process for obtaining a COVID-19 vaccine will be like obtaining flu shots and other routine vaccinations:
- Many health care providers and pharmacies will continue to offer vaccinations against COVID-19
- COVID-19 vaccinations will continue to be free for children in Washington
- Adult COVID-19 vaccinations will be covered by most private insurance, Medicare (“Apple Health”) and Medicaid/CHIP
- People who are uninsured will be able to get free COVID-19 vaccinations at select local pharmacies and community health centers
Most forms of private health insurance, including all plans compliant with the Affordable Care Act, must continue to pay for COVID-19 vaccines administered by a health care provider in their network without charging the patient. People with private health insurance may have to pay part of the cost if they are vaccinated by an out-of-network provider.
Community health centers and public health centers have vaccinations for uninsured and underinsured people if they sign up as patients.
How to access treatment for COVID-19
Antiviral drugs, such as Paxlovid, can reduce the chances of hospitalization and death if taken soon after contracting the virus that causes COVID-19. They are especially important for adults 65 and older and people of any age who are at high risk.
Antiviral drugs purchased by the federal government will remain free regardless of insurance coverage until supplies last. The Washington State Department of Health is providing telehealth classes to treat COVID-19.
When the federal supply of antiviral drugs runs out later this year, depending on the type of insurance someone has, people will likely have to pay some or all of the cost of treatment for COVID-19. This would be like the costs people have for other drugs through traditional coverage.
Community clinics throughout King County are providing treatment for COVID-19. Many have adjusted fees according to household size and income. Most clinics accept Apple Health (Medicaid) or Medicare and people without insurance. Contact your nearest clinic for more information.
How to access testing for COVID-19
Most free PCR testing sites for COVID-19 have closed with the end of federal funding.
Public Health has a list of testing locations in King County. The federal government also has an online tool to find local free COVID-19 testing sites.
Many people are now using home tests for COVID-19, which are a good alternative to visiting a testing site. Here are a few ways you can access free home tests for COVID-19:
- You can order four free tests from the federal government to be shipped to your home. To order, visit: www.covid.gov/tests
- Through May 11, you can also order free tests to be shipped to your home from Washington State. However, they only deliver to people in certain postcodes, so visit the website to see if you qualify. Visit https://sayyescovidhometest.org/ or call 1-800-525-0127 to order the tests.
- Public Health is working with many local libraries, community centers and community organizations to provide free home testing for COVID-19.
- If you have insurance, including Apple Health or Medicare, you can get free home tests for COVID-19 at any pharmacy until May 11. Just walk in, show them your insurance card and ask if it covers free home tests for COVID-19.
- If you’re enrolled in a state Medicaid program, like Apple Health, you can continue to get free home COVID-19 tests from the pharmacy until September 2024.
Community clinics throughout King County are providing testing for COVID-19. Many have reduced fees adjusted for household size and income. Most clinics accept Apple Health (Medicaid) and Medicare and people without insurance. Please call your nearest clinic for more information.
Originally published on 5/8/2023