On Jan. 31, 2020, the U.S. declared a national public health emergency (PHE) for COVID-19, and now, more than three years later, it is ending. The PHE is set to expire May 11.
“The end of the public health emergency does not mean the end of COVID-19,” says Anita Patel, vice president of pharmacy services development at Walgreens. “Our pharmacists will remain a trusted point of access to the latest COVID-19 services for our patients providing incredible value as new variants emerge and virus seasons occur.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Walgreens pharmacy teams across the country administered more than 80 million COVID-19 vaccines and more than 35 million tests.
“Throughout the pandemic, our dedicated pharmacists pioneered new ways to support our patients as our clinical services evolved,” Patel says. “Their incredible, heroic efforts pave the way for future innovations and expansion of care that our patients now rely on.”
So, what does the end of the PHE mean for Walgreens patients? Our pharmacy teams will continue to provide COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines; however, the way patients pay for some of these services may change. Let’s look more closely at how these changes may affect you:
Testing is where patients will see the most significant changes. The ability to obtain a COVID-19 test at Walgreens remains the same, but beginning May 12, insurers and the government are no longer required to reimburse individuals for the cost of a COVID-19 test. Over-the-counter tests will also no longer be available for free unless your insurance plan or state government covers it.*
Uninsured patients must meet federal eligibility requirements to receive a free COVID-19 test. To be eligible for a federally funded test, uninsured patients must have symptoms or a recent exposure to a confirmed positive COVID-19 case.
Patients will be prompted to confirm insurance coverage when they make their appointment at Walgreens.com/CovidTesting. If an individual has questions about insurance coverage, we encourage them to reach out to their health plan provider before receiving any services at Walgreens to confirm their coverage.
At this time, COVID-19 vaccines will be provided at no cost, regardless of insurance status.
Same-day COVID-19 vaccine appointments will continue to be available in all retail locations across the country with walk-in appointments available at select stores nationwide. Appointments are encouraged for the best experience and can be made at Walgreens.com/ScheduleVaccine, via the Walgreens app, or by calling 1-800-WALGREENS.
In April, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced a bridge program to support uninsured patients even after the PHE ends. The department is using limited existing COVID-19 supplemental funds to support this program through December 2024, the announcement says.
“We’re excited about the administration’s commitment to this federal program and look forward to more details,” Patel says. “Walgreens will remain committed to our Vaccine Equity Initiative that continues to drive equitable access to vaccines and testing, including creating new access solutions, facilitating educational programs that address vaccine hesitancy and fostering partnerships that best meet the needs of each community.”
At this time, oral antivirals, such as Paxlovid, will continue to be provided at no cost until the federal supply runs out.
Additionally, the HHS bridge program that will cover COVID-19 vaccines for the uninsured until December 2024 will also cover antivirals for the uninsured during that same time period. For other Americans, coverage of oral antivirals will continue until the federal supply of antivirals runs out. At that point, products like Paxlovid will be purchased like other drugs and treatments through traditional insurance coverage.
“As the country navigates a post-PHE world, we’re taking appropriate steps to minimize the impact of these changes to our patients to ensure a seamless experience,” Patels says.
Additional details about these changes are outlined at Walgreens.com.
*California state law extends the free testing provision through Nov. 11, 2023.