UPDATE: June 1, 2023: The CMS on Wednesday issued a final rule lifting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for workers in healthcare facilities that receive federal funding as soon as early August. The rule, which will go into effect 60 days after being published in the Federal Register, would withdraw regulations requiring the vaccines for healthcare workers that went into effect last year following a number of legal challenges.
The CMS said it will not be enforcing the provisions between now and August.
In the final rule, regulators suggested COVID vaccination rates could be included as a quality measure in Medicare, to encourage and monitor continued uptake of vaccines. Worker vaccinations could affect ratings on hospital compare sites, along with payments in value-based purchasing programs, but wouldn’t affect a provider’s ability to participate in Medicare, the CMS said.
“At this point in time, we believe that the risks targeted by the staff vaccination [rule] have been largely addressed, so we are now aligning our approach with those for other infectious diseases, specifically influenza. Accordingly, CMS intends to encourage ongoing COVID-19 vaccination through its quality reporting and value-based incentive programs in the near future,” the rule reads.
- The Biden administration is planning to end the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for workers in healthcare facilities that receive federal funding.
- The HHS will start the process to end the requirements and make more details available in the coming days, according to a Monday release from the White House. Regulators didn’t say when the rule will be lifted.
- The vaccine mandate, enacted in late 2021 was highly controversial, and faced numerous challenges from conservative-learning states.
The Biden administration is nixing the vaccine requirements two years after enacting them, in a move dozens of red states slammed as government overreach. Legal challenges argued the CMS didn’t have the authority to enact such regulations, and that a vaccination mandate would exacerbate worsening labor strains, especially in rural areas.
Yet major provider groups supported requiring healthcare worker vaccinations as COVID-19 cases rose in 2021, arguing they were a valuable tool to stop the spread of the virus in medical facilities. Even before the government’s requirement, some major systems implementing their own vaccine mandates, even firing employees that failed to comply.
The rule required hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities to ensure staff were fully vaccinated or risk losing Medicare and Medicaid funding. It applied to about 10.4 million workers in the U.S., according to the CMS.
A case brought by 10 states contesting the mandate reached the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the challenge in late 2022. The high court had also previously upheld the mandate in a 5-4 decision earlier that year. Still, dozens of states continued to petition the Biden administration to repeal the mandate.
COVID-19 deaths have declined by 95% since January 2021, while hospitalizations are down almost 91%, the White House noted in its statement.
"While vaccination remains one of the most important tools in advancing the health and safety of employees and promoting the efficiency of workplaces, we are now in a different phase of our response when these measures are no longer necessary," the White House said.
The Biden administration also plans to lower COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal employees and contractors, along with international air travelers entering the country, on May 11, when the COVID-19 public health emergency expires.