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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Health workers and hospitals confront fallout from Supreme Court mandate to vaccinate

While 21 states and the District of Columbia have already introduced mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers, six — Texas, Montana, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, and Georgia — have introduced bans preventing some employers from requiring vaccinations. Eighteen states had no health worker requirements, and five, including Utah, Arizona and Michigan, had health organizations exempt from bans on vaccine requirements.

The Supreme Court ruling involved two dozen states that were subject to federal injunctions preventing Medicare and Medicaid service centers from imposing a mandate. This requirement affects about 10 million workers in about 76,000 healthcare facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis called the new federal policy “insane” at a press conference on Thursday. The state health management agency also said it would not audit medical facilities for compliance with the vaccination mandate. On Friday, Mr. DeSantis reaffirmed his stance by tweeting that Florida will reject federal mandates “that are based on political science, not medical science.”

However, federal laws generally supersede or “preempt” state and local laws, and in allowing the mandate for healthcare professionals, the Supreme Court has at least implicitly ruled that it is overturning state laws prohibiting vaccination requirements at institutions involved in Medicaid and Medicare programs.

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The specter of potential loss of federal funding if they do not comply has already convinced some hospital chains to require vaccinations for workers who are not eligible for medical or religious exemptions.

“If we do not comply with CMS’s mandate, we could compromise our ability to serve our communities and provide patient care through Medicare and Medicaid,” an HCA spokesperson said in a statement. The system, which employs about 275,000 workers, said more than 90 percent of its workers had been vaccinated or were eligible for exemptions.

Federal officials have said they will work with hospitals and nursing homes to make sure they can vaccinate their workers, and regulators rarely withdraw federal funds. But many argue that the threat of losing funding remains. “Why risk losing Medicare, which is your lifeline?” asked Mark Neuberger, a Foley & Lardner employment lawyer for healthcare organizations. Other hospital groups, including the Cleveland Clinic, have also said they plan to comply. The clinic said about 85 percent of its staff have been vaccinated.

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