SCOTUS Rejects Employer Vaccination Mandate, Supports Healthcare Worker Mandate

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  • The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a health care vaccination mandate while striking down a federal mandate on large employers.

After Florida and other states fought the plans, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a COVID-19 vaccination mandate for large employers, while clearing the way for a requirement that workers in the health get vaccinated in an attempt to curb the virus.

The judges issued two rulings, drawing distinctions between an Occupational Safety and Health Administration vaccination rule affecting employers of 100 or more workers and a separate rule that applies to hospitals, nursing homes nursing and other health care providers.

In a 5-4 decision, the court said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services acted within its legal authority when it issued the vaccination warrant for health care providers who attend the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The ruling granted a request by the Biden administration to stay preliminary injunctions that lower courts had issued against the warrant.

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“COVID-19 is a highly contagious, dangerous, and — especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients — deadly disease,” the majority opinion said. “The Secretary of Health and Human Services has determined that a COVID-19 vaccination mandate will significantly reduce the likelihood of healthcare workers contracting the virus and passing it on to their patients. It therefore concluded that a vaccine mandate is “necessary to promote and protect patient health and safety” in the face of the ongoing pandemic. The rule therefore fits perfectly with the wording of the law. After all, 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. »

A challenge filed by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody against the health care rule is pending in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, after a Pensacola-based federal judge refused to block the vaccination requirement. Moody, backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, argued that federal officials had exceeded their legal authority and that the mandate would worsen healthcare worker shortages.

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After Thursday’s decision, the Florida Health Care Association, the state’s largest nursing home industry group, expressed concern about the effect of the vaccination requirement on staff. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, released the rule in early November, though legal challenges have delayed its implementation.

“We have always encouraged our members to continue working to vaccinate as many residents and staff as possible,” Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp said in an email. “However, long-term care is experiencing a historic workforce crisis. We are extremely concerned that the court’s decision to allow the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) mandate to continue will result in the loss of even more nursing home staff at a time when we are struggling with significant staff shortages that impact access to care. .”

The notice was unsigned, but the majority of the court consisted of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Brett Kavanaugh. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett joined in a pair of dissents.

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“These cases are not about the effectiveness or importance of COVID-19 vaccines,” Thomas wrote in one of the dissents. “It is only about whether CMS has the legal power to force healthcare workers, by compelling their employers, to undergo a medical procedure that they do not want and cannot cancel. Because the government has not made it clear that Congress has given CMS this broad authority, I would deny the suspensions pending appeal.

The court, however, voted 6 to 3 to block the OSHA rule, which targeted employers with 100 or more employers. The rule required workers to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or test negative at least once a week and wear masks.

Florida, Georgia and Alabama challenged the rule in November, with that case later consolidated with other challenges in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ohio-based appeals court allowed the rule to go forward, but the Supreme Court on Thursday suspended the rule.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision in the OSHA case.

“I came into the restaurant industry,” Patronis said in a Twitter post. “I know how tight margins can be and how difficult it is to hire and retain employees. The Biden vaccine mandate has hurt small businesses and I’m glad the Supreme Court inflicted a big loss on him today. This is a victory for our state, our country and our FREEDOM! »

Biden released a statement expressing his disappointment with OSHA’s decision, saying it is now up to states and “individual employers to determine whether they should make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.

The majority of the court in OSHA’s decision consisted of Roberts, Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Barrett. Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan dissented.

“While Congress unquestionably gave OSHA the power to regulate occupational hazards, it did not give this agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the majority opinion said. “Requiring the vaccination of 84 million Americans, selected simply because they work for employers with more than 100 employees, certainly falls into the latter category.”

But a dissenting opinion said the majority opinion “seriously misapply the applicable legal standards. And in doing so, it hampers the federal government’s ability to counter the unprecedented threat that COVID-19 poses to our country’s workers. Acting outside of its jurisdiction and without a legal basis, the court overturns the judgments of government officials responsible for responding to health emergencies at work.

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