U.S. Supreme Court gives go-ahead to CMS vaccine mandate

Court blocks OSHA mandate but allows CMS requirements

Healthcare workers employed by agencies doing business with Medicare will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to keep their jobs – including home health and hospice workers in states which had previously challenged vaccine requirements set out by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

In a Jan. 13 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court determined CMS has the authority to require vaccinations for healthcare workers, although the Court took a different view on requiring vaccinations for employees in other fields.

A majority of justices voted to block an OSHA vaccine mandate which would have impacted any business in any sector as long as the business had 100 or more employees.

“The Court’s ruling is not an unexpected turn of events,” said SimiTree Principal Rob Simione. “There was widespread speculation in the industry that although the OSHA mandate might be struck down, the CMS mandate would go forward.”

The Supreme Court began its review of the two separate vaccine mandates Jan. 7.

A 5-4 majority Court ruling endorsed the CMS vaccination requirement, although Justice Samuel Alito wrote in a dissenting opinion that compelling healthcare workers to be vaccinated on pain of being fired was an “unprecedented step.” Also dissenting were Justices Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Justices agreeing with the CMS requirement cited its necessity under the ongoing pandemic. “…Ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the majority opinion read, in part.

Implementation deadlines

The most recent information from CMS, issued on Dec. 30, 2021, establishes two incremental deadlines for implementing vaccine requirements. The deadline for Phase 1 implementation is Jan. 27, and the deadline for Phase 2 implementation is Feb. 28.

CMS did not immediately respond to the Supreme Court ruling with any changes to those deadlines, or address whether additional time might be granted to agencies in states which appealed the CMS mandate to the Supreme Court and were denied.

Unless or until CMS provides specific information otherwise, SimiTree consultants say agencies should move forward with the assumption that the Jan. 27 and Feb. 28 dates for implementation will apply to all.

“Both deadlines are approaching quickly, especially Jan. 28,” Simione noted. “Agencies will need to act quickly to make certain they are in compliance."

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