The elderly population (those 65 and older) in the U.S. continue to face a disproportionately negative impact from the COVID-19 epidemic. While elderly individuals account for only 16% of the total U.S. population, they represent close to 90% of recent COVID-19 deaths in just the last few months. Throughout 2022, deaths among elderly individuals routinely spiked as the year progressed. The number of deaths among elderly individuals increased by 125% between April and July; a disturbing trend continuing to October, which experienced over 2,000 more deaths than in April. Even with these spikes in COVID-19 deaths among elderly individuals, the Biden Administration announced that the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency will end on May 11, 2023. The proposed end of this incredibly important federal program will be devasting to elderly populations as it will likely limit access to crucial COVID-19 prevention and treatment.
The end of the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency will create cost barriers for both testing and vaccines. Elderly individuals under traditional Medicare will no longer have access to at-home tests free of charge and even those with Medicare Advantage plans are not guaranteed to receive them for free. When it comes to PCR and rapid tests administered by physicians, elderly individuals under both traditional and Medicare Advantage plans may now experience cost-sharing fees from their testing visits. While access to free COVID-19 vaccines will still be available after May 11th, the supply of federally purchased vaccines will eventually disappear and many pharmaceutical companies will commodify the vaccine, creating cost barriers that will decrease population-wide immunization rates.
The commodification of the vaccine and the new cost barriers in testing will likely lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the U.S., increasing the need for treatment. Unfortunately, elderly individuals receiving Medicare will now face cost-sharing fees for COVID-19 treatment due to the end of the Public Health Emergency. This cost barrier will lead to many elderly individuals not being able to access treatment, including the drug Paxlovid. Studies have demonstrated that Paxlovid can reduce COVID-19 hospitalizations in vaccinated elderly patients by 73%, along with reducing deaths by 81% in other studies.
Clearly the public health threat of COVID-19 has not ended, as the death rates among elderly individuals remain high. It is crucial that the Biden Administration revoke this proposal and extend the Public Health Emergency well beyond May 11, 2023. This proposal displays the federal government’s unjust intent to shift the financial responsibility of controlling the COVID-19 epidemic in the U.S. onto patients, many of whom lack the means to financially take on this tremendous unresolved burden. This will undoubtedly cause further harm to elderly individuals, who may include our parents, our grandparents, and our neighbors.