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September 10, 2021

Health Law Weekly

Administration Significantly Expands COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements

  • September 10, 2021

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced September 9 that it will require COVID-19 vaccinations for an estimated 17 million health care workers in hospitals and other facilities and settings that participate in Medicare and Medicaid.

CMS said in August that nursing homes would be required, as a condition of participating in Medicare and Medicaid, to ensure all their staff are vaccinated for COVID-19 under soon-to-be-released emergency regulations. With the latest announcement, CMS said those emergency regulations will now extend the requirement to all Medicare and Medicaid-participating hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical facilities, home health agencies, and other health care settings.

The nursing home industry raised concerns about the earlier plan to single out nursing home providers for the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, noting that unless mandates for health care personnel are applied universally in the health care arena, nursing homes would face workforce shortages.

“There is no question that staff, across any health care setting, who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health. Ensuring safety and access to all patients, regardless of their entry point into the health care system, is essential,” said Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra in a statement.

CMS plans to issue an interim final rule with comment period in October. “Health care workers employed in these facilities who are not currently vaccinated are urged to begin the process immediately,” the agency said.

The move is part of a broad-based effort by the administration to counter the spread of COVID-19 in the face of the highly transmissible Delta variant. President Biden on September 9 unveiled the administration’s six-point “Path Out of the Pandemic” plan. In addition to signing executive orders requiring all federal workers and federal contractors to be vaccinated, Biden said the Occupational Safety and Health Administration will develop a rule requiring all businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or are tested on a weekly basis.

The White House also detailed additional steps to help ease the burden on hospitals facing capacity issues, including doubling the number of Department of Defense teams of clinicians available to respond to COVID-19 surges. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also has opened up more than 150 hospital beds in VA facilities in surge states to alleviate the burden on local hospitals.

Biden said the federal government also plans to boost weekly shipments of monoclonal antibody treatment to states by 50% in September.