COVID emergency lift in May may cause disruptions for Alaskans, officials say

COVID emergency lift in May may cause disruptions for Alaskans, officials say
Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 10:53 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - It’s been nearly three years since the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, and the anniversary comes as most of the world inches closer to normalcy.

At the same time, there may be marked disruptions along with it, according to Alaska health officials.

“A lot of things have been unwinding behind the scenes,” President and CEO of the Alaska Hospital and Healthcare Association Dr. Jared Kosin said. “I mean, you see it in everyday life, there’s been a sense of normalcy, people know how to function, I think if you go back to healthcare and you look at what’s going on inside our facilities, healthcare is starting to, in many ways, look like it did before the pandemic.”

On Monday, President Joe Biden announced he would be ending the twin national pandemic emergencies on May 11, signaling an end to special government funding and resources for vaccine development and moving towards a more casual approach to maintaining the public health threat. Since March 2020, the virus has killed 1,436 Alaskans, according to the Alaska Department of Health, and more than 1.1 million nationwide.

Kosin says many people anticipated that the pandemic would wind down eventually. The changes are confirmed to be ending soon, based on the $1.7 trillion spending package signed into law by Biden, due to a rule put in place barring states from kicking people off Medicaid.

“The Medicaid programs had to — essentially kept anyone who was eligible for the program at any point in time — they were maintained in the program throughout the duration of the public health emergency,” Kosin said.

With the pandemic seemingly becoming more manageable, a redetermination for everyone on Medicaid will be made, as it has not been done for the last several years. That redetermination process applies to people across the country who have Medicaid.

As such, millions of people are expected to lose their coverage after April 1.

“When you’re talking about a redetermination process or renewal process, when you’re talking about thousands of thousands of lives, that’s a major event for health care and health care coverage,” Kosin said.

Kosin says that he and other healthcare professionals are working on outreach to ensure that those covered by Medicaid will continue to see coverage.

“How is that going to unfold, and how do we all work together, both the department and all of us out in healthcare to make sure there’s strong outreach to minimize the disruptions to individual Alaskans and their healthcare coverage,” Kosin said.

Additionally, the Associated Press reports that once the government stops buying COVID-19 vaccines, costs will skyrocket. Pfizer has said the vaccine could cost recipients as much as $130 per dose. Free, federally-funded at-home COVID-19 tests are also coming to an end, and hospitals will no longer receive extra money for treating COVID-19 patients, according to the AP.

Many factors must be taken into consideration, Kosin said, especially with the Biden administration planning to end the national emergency and public health emergency this coming May. Bills in the United States House of Representatives are trying to end the declarations even sooner.