COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements Expanded for Healthcare Industry

By now you may have heard that President Joe Biden announced a six-prong Covid-19 action plan designed to combat the virus and the overwhelming impact of the Delta variant. Among them: staff at all Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities will be required to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, along with the Centers for Disease Control, are urging all healthcare facilities to begin making efforts to ensure compliance. The agencies stated that emergency regulations announced last month requiring vaccines for the nation’s more than 15,000 Medicare and Medicaid participating nursing homes is being expanded to include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical centers and home health agencies, among others, as a condition to receiving Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

The new requirements will apply to all staff and volunteers regardless of whether they are involved in direct patient care. They will be issued through emergency regulations as an Interim Final Rule which is expected to be published next month. After the rule is published, CMS will begin accepting public comments.

Even before the rule is published, CMS is urging unvaccinated healthcare workers to get the vaccine and for facilities to use all resources at their disposal to support vaccines, including education and clinics.

“As the Delta variant continues to spread, we know the best defense against it lies with the COVID-19 vaccine. Data show that the higher the level of vaccination rates among providers and staff, the lower the infection rate is among patients who are dependent upon them for care. Now is the time to act. I’m urging everyone, but especially those fighting this virus on the front lines, to get vaccinated and protect themselves, their families, and their patients from COVID-19,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

Healthcare facilities not subject to the CMS requirement should consider the Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS) that President Joe Biden also announced, which will require private employers with 100 or more employees to ensure that they are either fully vaccinated or able to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test at least weekly. The Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with developing and enforcing that rule, which would impact more than 80 million U.S. workers.

As we wrote about in June, OSHA issued an ETS with a list of healthcare workplace requirements which can be found here.

Because this is a developing situation and the Interim Final Rule has not yet been published, many questions remain unanswered including who will pay for testing, how will facilities will verify vaccination status, and how those agencies charged with enforcing the rules will be able to keep up with the demands.

Undoubtedly there will be legal challenges along the way. Already many healthcare industry groups have called the proposed regulations burdensome and difficult to impose given the changing nature of the situation. You can find some of the comments here.

The Health Law Offices of Anthony C. Vitale is closely following these developments and can work with your organization in developing a compliant OSHA COVID-19 program or assuring that your current program is ETS compliant.

For more information contact us at 305-358-4500 or email info@vitalehealthlaw.com.

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