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Healthcare Stakeholders React to SCOTUS Vaccine Ruling

Analysis  |  By Jasmyne Ray  
   January 14, 2022

The court 'halted one of the most effective tools' in gaining control of the virus, the American Medical Association says.

Though the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked President Biden’s COVID vaccination and testing mandate for large businesses, it did, however, allow the Biden administration to mandate vaccines for most healthcare workers in the United States.

The court voted against the vaccination and testing mandate in a 6-3 ruling. The mandate for healthcare workers will proceed with a 5-4 vote.

In a statement from the White House, Biden said the healthcare worker mandate “will save lives,” and expressed his disappointment at the Supreme Court blocking the mandate for employees.

"As a result of the Court’s decision, it is now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to 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," Biden said.

Leaders, members, and observers of the healthcare industry have released their own respective statements in response to the ruling.

Dr. Gerald E. Harmon, president of the American Medical Association (AMA), says the Court "halted one of the most effective tools" in gaining control of the virus.

In a statement from the AMA, Harmon said that while he’s pleased with the mandate for healthcare workers, he and the organization are disappointed in the ruling on vaccinations and testing for large businesses, noting the role workplace transmission has played in the spread of the virus.

"The high court’s decision does not contest the reliability of scientific evidence in support of COVID-19 vaccine requirements, and in fact, cites the AMA’s support in upholding the CMS rule," Harmon said. "Widespread use of the COVID-19 vaccines has proven to be the safest, most effective way to reduce the virus transmission and public harm. We continue to urge large employers to do their part to safeguard their workforces and communities so we can defeat this COVID-19 pandemic together."

Commenting on the ruling, Dr. Jeff Levin-Scherz, Willis Towers Watson population health leader, stated that many employers already had mandates in place to protect their employees.

In a statement from Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, a nonprofit provider of aging services, Sloan calls vaccines and boosters the "most powerful tools" to fight COVID.

"While mandates can sometimes make it harder for employers to keep or find qualified workers—especially as Omicron surges and workforce challenges are growing—we encourage all members, regardless of care setting or community type, to ensure staff get vaccinated," Sloan said.

Sloan added that many LeadingAge providers began implementing mandates long before the government announced their plans to do so.Speaking on behalf of the American Hospital Association, president and CEO Rick Pollack emphasized the frustration and  exhaustion healthcare workers have faced simply in trying to treat patients throughout the pandemic, saying that the vaccines have been "a ray of light" in that they at least decrease the chances of them getting seriously ill or needing to be hospitalized.

"Now that the Supreme Court ruling has lifted the ban on the CMS vaccine mandate, the AHA will work with the hospital field to find ways to comply that balances that requirement with the need to retain a sufficient workforce to meet the needs of their patients," Pollack said.

Additionally, Pollack said the AHA expects the Biden administration to work with them by providing funding and other resources to "bolster the healthcare workforce."

The Association of American Medical Colleges released a statement applauding the ruling and its recognition of medical community’s support of the vaccine, also noting its disappointment at the mandate for large businesses being blocked.

"The science is unequivocal. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and prevent severe illnesses, hospitalization, and death when dealing with all coronavirus variants," David J. Skorton, AAMC president and CEO, said. "Vaccine requirements help the nation continue to combat the spread of the pandemic. The experience of AAMC member institutions demonstrates than an overwhelming majority of employees get vaccinated after a requirement is instituted, contributing to the health and safety of patients and staff alike."

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, expressed that the organization was pleased with the Supreme Court's ruling.

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

Prior to the ruling, CMS had already been implementing its own healthcare worker vaccination rule in 25 states and territories that had not been covered by "preliminary injunctions." Brooks-LaSure said the court’s ruling with allow CMS to fully implement them.

“While mandates can sometimes make it harder for employers to keep or find qualified workers—especially as Omicron surges and workforce challenges are growing—we encourage all members, regardless of care setting or community type, to ensure staff get vaccinated.”

Jasmyne Ray is the revenue cycle editor at HealthLeaders. 

Photo credit: Bob Korn

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