The Biden Administration plans to end the COVID-19 national and public health emergencies (PHE) this Spring.
The announcement from the Office of Management and Budget on Jan. 30 comes as House Republicans were set to vote on two pieces of legislation that the Biden White House said would not wind down the response to the pandemic in a responsible way.
Declared by the Trump Administration in 2020, the national emergency and PHE are set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. The Biden Administration’s plan is to extend both declarations to an end date of May 11. New Jersey’s public health emergency was lifted by Gov. Phil Murphy on March 7, 2022.
“This wind-down would align with the administration’s previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the PHE,” said the statement released by the White House Jan. 30. “However, ending these emergency declarations in the manner contemplated by H.R. 382 and H.J. Res. 7 would have two highly significant impacts on our nation’s health system and government operations.”
Disruption in Healthcare
The White House statement made clear that the declaration of an end date does not impose any restriction at all on individual conduct—such as mask or vaccine mandates—with regard to COVID-19, does not restrict school or business operations nor require the use of any medicines or tests in response to cases of COVID-19.
But OMB said the moves by Republicans would result in two things that a May 11 end avoids—wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the healthcare system as well as ending the Title 42 immigration policy the U.S. has used to stem the tide of immigration from South and Central America.
“During the PHE, the Medicaid program has operated under special rules to provide extra funding to states to ensure that tens of millions of vulnerable Americans kept their Medicaid coverage during a global pandemic,” the letter states. “If the PHE were suddenly terminated, it would sow confusion and chaos into this critical wind-down (as) tens of millions of Americans could be at risk of abruptly losing their health insurance, and states could be at risk of losing billions of dollars in funding.”
Additionally, OMB cautioned that hospitals and nursing homes that have relied on flexibilities enabled by the emergency declarations would not be given adequate time to retrain staff and establish new billing processes, leading to disruptions in care and payment delays, and many facilities around the country will experience revenue losses.
“Millions of patients, including many of our nation’s veterans, who rely on telehealth would suddenly be unable to access critical clinical services and medications,” the OMB wrote. “The most acutely impacted would be individuals with behavioral health needs and rural patients.”
As for the effect on immigration, the Biden Admndsation noted that Title 42 remains in place because of orders issued by the Supreme Court and a district court in Louisiana. Recent efforts to step up enforcement have resulted in the number of migrants crossing the border has been cut in half, deterring illegal migration from Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti.
“Enactment of H.R. 382 would lift Title 42 immediately, and result in a substantial additional inflow of migrants at the Southwest border,” OMB stated. “The Administration supports an orderly, predictable wind-down of Title 42, with sufficient time to put alternative policies in place.”
“But if H.R. 382 becomes law and the Title 42 restrictions end precipitously, Congress will effectively be requiring the Administration to allow thousands of migrants per day into the country immediately without the necessary policies in place.”