Judge blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers in 10 states

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 4:40 AM CST
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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP/KCRG) - A federal judge has blocked President Biden’s administration from enforcing a coronavirus vaccine mandate on thousands of health care workers in 10 states, including Iowa.

The Associated Press reports the court order said that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid had no clear authority from Congress to enact the vaccine mandate for providers participating in the two government health care programs for the elderly, disabled and poor.

The preliminary injunction by St. Louis-based U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp applies to a coalition of suing states that includes Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. All those states have either a Republican attorney general or governor. Similar lawsuits also are pending in other states.

The federal rule requires COVID-19 vaccinations for more than 17 million workers nationwide in about 76,000 health care facilities and home health care providers that get funding from the government health programs. Workers are to receive their first dose by Dec. 6 and their second shot by Jan. 4.

The court order against the health care vaccine mandate comes after Biden’s administration suffered a similar setback for a broader policy. A federal court previously placed a hold on a separate rule requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to ensure their workers get vaccinated or else wear masks and get tested weekly for the coronavirus.

Biden’s administration contends federal rules supersede state policies prohibiting vaccine mandates and are essential to slowing the pandemic, which has killed more than 775,000 people in the U.S. About three-fifths of the U.S. population already is fully vaccinated.

But the judge in the health care provider case wrote that federal officials likely overstepped their legal powers.

“CMS seeks to overtake an area of traditional state authority by imposing an unprecedented demand to federally dictate the private medical decisions of millions of Americans. Such action challenges traditional notions of federalism,” Schelp wrote in his order.

KCRG-TV9 spoke with Brent Willet, president and CEO with the Iowa Health Care Association, who said the ruling is welcomed by the health care and nursing facilities under his organization. He said 74 percent of staff in Iowa nursing homes are already vaccinated, with that number going up monthly.

“And what we fear is the hammer of regulatory enforcement all at once with the very real possibility of wiping out thousands of health care workers in the midst of a workforce crisis which we’ve never seen before,” Willet said.

Willet said the temporary block gives them time to figure out a plan for staff who are still unvaccinated, saying “We still have several thousand employees who we’re working through the vaccination process with. And we still have no concrete plan. We still had no formal notice from CMS when it comes to how to handle those folks. So this certainly is again the gift of time.”

Willet said his organization wants the federal government to focus on providing resources and technical assistance to help healthcare employees make voluntary decisions relative to vaccination status, instead of mandating vaccines.

Unity Point St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids and Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids both already have vaccine mandates in place. Those mandates do allow for certain exemptions. Both have a compliance rate of 99.5 percent.

Governor Reynolds released a statement responding to the court’s decision to enjoin CMS vaccine mandate rule, saying “Iowa is fighting back against the Biden Administration’s attack on individual liberties and I applaud the court’s decision to enjoin the vaccine mandate rule for Medicare and Medicaid certified providers and suppliers. Medical providers that have been on the frontlines of this pandemic saving lives deserve the freedom and ability to make their own informed health care decisions. I believe the vaccine is the best defense against COVID-19, but I also firmly believe in Iowans’ right to make health care decisions based on what’s best for themselves and their families, and I remain committed to protecting those freedoms. President Biden should do the same.”

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