In an effort to combat the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, in September 2021, President Biden announced a series of emergency worker protection regulations, including vaccine mandates for federal employees as well as federal contractors, subcontractors, and their employees.
Shortly thereafter, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced an Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) requiring vaccination or testing for private businesses. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) followed suit and issued an interim final rule requiring healthcare workers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated.
In the following months, these mandates faced a series of legal challenges. Finally, on January 13, 2022, the Supreme Court blocked OSHA’s ETS but allowed the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers to take effect. Consequently, employers need to consider the complex impact of these decisions on their workforce, establish their responsibilities to maintain a safe workplace, and take proper steps to ensure compliance.
CMS Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers and Protection of Patient Health and Safety
In its opinion allowing the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers to go into effect, the Supreme Court noted that CMS had the statutory authority to impose the vaccination rule in an effort to ensure patients’ health and safety. The Court also explained that the federal government has the authority to impose conditions in connection with funding for public programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Given that COVID-19 is highly contagious and dangerous, especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients, the Supreme Court determined that CMS’ vaccination rule aligns with regulatory requirements for participating providers and suppliers to enforce programs that prevent infections and control diseases. Furthermore, CMS routinely regulates the qualifications and duties of health care professionals, justifying these regulations by its power to protect patient safety. Therefore, requiring a COVID-19 vaccine for health care workers, the court held, is ultimately no different.Use this detailed guide to find out how to establish your healthcare organization’s compliance, and how to avoid unnecessary risks with proper exclusion and sanction screening.
CMS Updated Guidance
Following the Supreme Court’s decision, CMS issued updated guidance to provide new compliance deadlines for states that were involved in legal challenges of the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. According to the guidance, facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid in 24 states need to ensure their employees have at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by February 14, 2022. Also, employees have to be fully vaccinated by March 15, 2022.
The new compliance deadlines apply to the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming. The guidance specifically does not apply to Texas as this state remains subject to an injunction, while all other U.S. states are expected to abide by compliance deadlines set in the Memorandum issued on December 28, 2021. In other words, facilities in these states need to apply the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers and have their employees fully vaccinated by February 25.
Another Lawsuit Against Vaccine Mandate for Healthcare Workers
Following the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry and 15 other state attorney generals have filed a complaint against the CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. According to them, the situation has changed with the rise of the highly infectious, but more vaccine-resistant, omicron variant, in place of the delta variant. In addition to this, state attorney generals repeat prior warnings that implementation of the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers would further jeopardize a strained healthcare labor market. This includes placing an additional burden on state surveyors who also need to be vaccinated in order to implement vaccination requirements and conduct assessments.
The CMS mandate for healthcare workers is broadly supported by national healthcare industry groups and professional organizations as an understandable measure to limit COVID-19 transmission. At the same time, individual facilities and the nursing home or assisted living industry groups express worries that the requirement would worsen an ongoing labor shortage.
Compliance with Vaccine Requirements at State and Local Levels
Regulations regarding COVID-19 and vaccine mandates in the workplace continue to evolve. The Supreme Court ruling on the OSHA and CMS vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, leave employers faced with increasingly complex rules at both state and local level. Furthermore, failure to comply with the CMS vaccine mandate could result in termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs, while nursing homes and similar entities are also subject to fines and claim denials under a similar vaccine mandate specifically for their organizations.
Therefore, it is imperative that all employers determine if their healthcare organization is subject to the CMS vaccine mandate, what requirements they need to fulfill, and potential repercussions for healthcare organizations that fail to comply with the new regulations. In addition to this, employers should closely follow ongoing developments regarding vaccine requirements at the state and local levels. Myriad rules and sometimes conflicting guidance at the federal, state, and local levels put a significant burden on employers as staying abreast of these changes may mean the difference between maintaining compliance or facing penalties. To simplify this process and adhere to the latest regulatory requirements concerning the healthcare industry, employers can rely on a complete end-to-end exclusion screening software solution. Thus, they can stay up-to-date with the latest screening requirements and automate compliance checks, but also meet an expanding array of regulatory requirements.