Employees of healthcare providers that accept Medicare and Medicaid are expected to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4, in accordance with a federal vaccine mandate issued in November. However, the situation is a bit of a moving target with court challenges possibly affecting the deadline.
What is the healthcare worker mandate? An emergency regulation was issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in November in conjunction with other federal vaccine mandates that apply to large employers (those with more than 100 employees). However, the CMS mandate applies to all Medicare and Medicaid-funded providers regardless of the number of employees.
The reasoning behind the mandate is two-fold: front line health care workers should protect themselves from getting the virus, especially since they are in a position of administering care. At the same time, the public needs assurances that the health care professionals caring for them are not sick from the virus.
Where does the mandate stand? As is the case with the large employer vaccine mandate (which is governed by OSHA and also under a court challenge), parties have opposed the regulation, citing government over-reach. On November 29, a Missouri federal judge temporarily blocked the CMS from enforcing the vaccine mandate in 10 states: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming. A federal district court in Louisiana then issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against CMS.
While this action has been perceived as a victory for healthcare providers that do not want to require employees to be vaccinated, it’s limited in scope to those 10 states. In addition, any appeal of the Missouri order could flip the decision and reinstate the CMS mandate in those states.
What should CMS healthcare providers do now? While the Missouri order may seem like a temporary reprieve for CMS healthcare employers in those states, it’s unclear if this suspension will be permanent. Employers need to be prepared in their compliance efforts if the court order is suddenly reversed and the vaccine mandate is enforced.
It’s important for employers to be aware of how the mandate works so that they are prepared to implement written policies on vaccine documentation, testing and mask requirements. The CMS mandate provides exemptions based on medical conditions, disabilities, and religious beliefs; therefore, employers need processes in place to track proof of vaccination or regular COVID-19 test results from unvaccinated employees. Employers may also want to consider onsite vaccination opportunities or vaccine incentives and have mechanisms in place to measure the outcomes of those efforts.
MarathonHR is here to help if you have any questions about the vaccine mandates and how they may affect your business.