Supreme Court allows CMS vaccine mandate to go into effect, blocks OSHA vaccine requirements for large businesses

Jan. 14, 2022

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled January 13, 2022 allowing the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services vaccine mandate to go into effect nationwide while blocking the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s vaccine requirements from taking effect. The Court ruled 5-4 in allowing the CMS vaccine mandate to go into effect and 6-3 in blocking the OSHA mandate for large business.

The court statement read:

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services administers the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which provide health insurance for millions of elderly, disabled, and low-income Americans. In November 2021, the Secretary announced that, in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, participating facilities must ensure that their staff—unless exempt for medical or religious reasons—are vaccinated against COVID–19.

Two District Courts enjoined enforcement of the rule, and the Government now asks us to stay those injunctions. Agreeing that it is entitled to such relief, we grant the applications.

The Medicare program provides health insurance to individuals 65 and older, as well as those with specified disabilities. The Medicaid program does the same for those with low incomes. Both Medicare and Medicaid are administered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who has general statutory authority to promulgate regulations “as may be necessary to the efficient administration of the functions with which [he] is charged.”

Congress has authorized the Secretary to impose conditions on the receipt of Medicaid and Medicare funds that “the Secretary finds necessary in the interest of the health and safety of individuals who are furnished services.”

COVID–19 is a highly contagious, dangerous, and—especially for Medicare and Medicaid patients—deadly disease. The Secretary of Health and Human Services determined that a COVID–19 vaccine mandate will substantially reduce the likelihood that healthcare workers will contract the virus and transmit it to their patients. He accordingly concluded that a vaccine mandate is “necessary to promote and protect patient health and safety” in the face of the ongoing pandemic.

Additional statements made by CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision on Vaccine Requirements state that, “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is extremely pleased the Supreme Court recognized CMS’ authority to set a consistent COVID-19 vaccination standard for workers in facilities that participate in Medicare and Medicaid. CMS’ vaccine rule will cover 10.4 million health care workers at 76,000 medical facilities. Giving patients assurance on the safety of their care is a critical responsibility of CMS and a key to combatting the pandemic.

“Vaccines are proven to reduce the risk of severe disease. The prevalence of the virus and its ever-evolving variants in healthcare settings continues to increase the risk of staff contracting and transmitting COVID-19, putting their patients, families, and our broader communities at risk. And healthcare staff being unable to work because of illness or exposure to COVID-19 further strains the health care system and limits patient access to safe and essential care.

“CMS is already implementing its healthcare worker vaccination rule in 25 states and territories that were not covered by preliminary injunctions. Today’s decision will enable us to fully implement this rule, and we look forward to working with health care providers and their workers to protect patients. We will continue our extensive outreach and assistance efforts encouraging individuals working in healthcare to get vaccinated.

“CMS is disappointed in the decision on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Emergency Temporary Standard, and agrees with President Biden and Secretary Walsh: This is a major setback for the health and safety of workers across the country.

“The bottom line is that vaccine requirements work and are an important tool to protect patients – and also to keep our health care workers healthy. We’ve already seen many health care providers successfully implement requirements for their staff. We look forward to working with health care providers to get their workers vaccinated. Protecting vulnerable patients across the country from the devastating effects of COVID-19 remains a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration and CMS.”

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