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Thursday was the last day of the U.S. federal public health emergency in response to the spread of COVID-19, another big step in the slow shift back to normalcy after a pandemic that exceeded three years and forced major worldwide disruptions.

The end of the federal emergency means changes for hospitals and how they interact with COVID sufferers. Here are four things expected to change:

  • Many health plans will continue to fully cover COVID vaccinations, but patients are likely to lose access to free at-home COVID-19 tests while also experiencing new or increased co-pays for COVID treatment.
  • Small, rural critical-access hospitals are losing flexibility around the ability to increase bed capacities and keep patients checked in for longer. Joe Schindler, a vice president at the Minnesota Hospital Association, previously said that made small hospitals more effective in treating serious illnesses with aid from video consults by specialists — thus easing a bed crunch in urban hospitals.
  • Hospitals are also pushing against the reinstatement of an old rule that required Medicare patients to be admitted for at least three days before they could be transferred to nursing facilities.
  • A 20% rate increase in Medicare payments for hospital treatment of COVID-19 is lifting, though Schindler said the switch won't hurt hospitals too much because the number of patients with COVID-19 has declined.