CINCINNATI — Two days after the federal government extended COVID-19 public health emergency orders that ensure low or no-cost testing and treatment, doctors warned people to prepare for life without either.
Between the Ohio Home Relief program paying Courtney Smith's rent and the federal money that offers her affordable COVID-19 tests and, if needed, treatment, she worries where she will live and how healthy she will be when funding for both safety nets expires this summer.
"Waking up every morning and being not sure, that's a scary thing," Smith said.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services renewed emergency orders for 90 days. That allows test and treatment clinics to continue offering free services. However, Hamilton County Public Health Medical Director Dr. Stephen Feagins sees reason for millions of people to brace for what happens next.
"The emergency declaration will end eventually," Feagins said. "It's probably going to be this summer. That seems to be where we're headed. So, ask questions. Make calls. Do it now. Don't wait until the last minute."
Hospitals and some laboratories already charge up to $100 for COVID-19 testing because funding dried up, Feagins said. He expects the same to happen for other emergency use authorized treatments when emergency orders end. He also said he believes people added to Medicaid rolls during the pandemic could lose coverage.
"We may ultimately see a few providers jump out of the game and no longer participate in vaccinations," said Greg Kesterman, Hamilton County Public Health Commissioner. "But we haven't seen that yet here in Hamilton County."
Kesterman said his team plans to patch holes in COVID-19 safety nets with state funding. They have enough money to offer free vaccinations to county residents through next June, he said. Also, the county commissioner plan to roll out a free testing program in two weeks.
"For the last two years, we've worried about what the next step would be," Kesterman said. "I can tell you I have an amazing team and we're ready to step up and provide if we see a shift."
Smith said she hopes Kesterman's team can help because her budget remains a riddle with more questions with answers.