Alaska News

How the end of the federal public health emergency next month will affect Alaskans

A federal public health emergency declared three years ago at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic is set to expire next month, prompting some changes to how Alaskans are able to access vaccines, tests and treatments for the coronavirus.

A report published this week by the Alaska Department of Health lays out what happens after the May 11 expiration date. COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral treatments will still be mostly free across the state, but over-the-counter tests for the virus may not. And those who use telehealth may see changes in how that care is delivered and whether insurance covers its cost.

The federal emergency, which was first declared in January 2020 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, made it possible for the federal government to offer “tools that allowed us to rapidly respond to the initial and acute phase of the pandemic,” state pharmacist Coleman Cutchins said this week.

Currently, coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are among the lowest they’ve been — both in Alaska and nationwide, Cutchins said. The expiration of the emergency doesn’t mean the virus is entirely gone, just that “we’ve moved on to a stage where the initial response tools just aren’t needed,” he said.

The federal emergency is separate from a state-specific public health emergency, which ended last July.

What’s changing next month

One of the biggest changes is that health insurance companies will no longer be required to cover the costs of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests when the federal emergency ends.

Under the public health emergency, up to eight tests per month, per family member were able to be directly billed to private and public health insurance companies.


Cutchins said it’s worth stocking up on tests now while they’re still covered, and checking with your insurance company to see whether they’ll still cover the costs of the tests — some may choose to even though they’re no longer required.

Tests ordered by a health provider will generally still be covered by most insurance companies, and free over-the-counter tests will be available for order for a little while longer from the federal government by visiting

Another change is that some expanded telehealth provisions under the federal health emergency may go away after a 90-day grace period, Cutchins said.

If you started seeing a provider for telehealth services after the pandemic began, it’s worth checking with your insurance company and health provider to make sure those services are still covered, he said.

What’s staying the same

The good news is that COVID-19 vaccines, which are “pre-purchased” by the federal government, will still be free and widely available statewide until at least the end of 2024 through various federal programs, Cutchins said.

Some pharmacies can and will charge a small fee for administering vaccines, but the actual cost of the vaccine will be free through the end of the year.

The emergency-use authorizations in place for the vaccines and treatments also won’t be impacted by the end of the federal health emergency, he said.

Antiviral treatments, including paxlovid and molnupiravir, are also still free and widely available until supplies run out, which Cutchins said the state was anticipating could happen in late summer or, more likely, early fall.

Once supplies run out, the treatments will become more like regular commercial drugs and will be covered by most insurance plans, he said.

“It just gets a little more complex,” he said.

For more information on upcoming changes, visit, a webpage stood up by the state health department to cover the end of the public health emergency.

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Reporter Annie Berman is a full-time reporter for the Anchorage Daily News covering health care and public health. Her position is supported by Report for America, which is working to fill gaps in reporting across America and to place a new generation of journalists in community news organizations around the country. Report for America, funded by both private and public donors, covers up to 50% of a reporter’s salary. It’s up to Anchorage Daily News to find the other half, through local community donors, benefactors, grants or other fundraising activities.

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Annie Berman

Annie Berman is a reporter covering health care, education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. She previously reported for Mission Local and KQED in San Francisco before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at