Another challenge: 16 states vying to block COVID-19 vaccine order for healthcare workers

Louisiana is leading the effort to overturn the mandate, just days before workers in some states must get their first dose. Healthcare workers in some states must be fully vaccinated by the end of the month.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for most healthcare workers, some states aren’t done fighting.

Louisiana is leading a 16-state effort to again challenge the vaccine order covering millions of healthcare workers. It comes as some states have already passed the deadline for healthcare workers to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and two dozen states are just days away.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has ordered healthcare organizations receiving Medicare and Medicaid funds to get their workers vaccinated. There are limited exceptions for health and religious reasons. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has said it will work with healthcare providers but expects hospitals and nursing homes to comply.

Louisiana is joined by Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia. The challenge has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who is leading the new effort, argues the federal government order is adding another burden to hospitals and nursing homes already battling a labor shortage. In a statement, Landry also contends the order doesn’t reflect new understanding of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, specifically saying it doesn’t stop transmission.

“The CMS vaccination rule remains a misguided, one-size-fits-all, job-killing directive that does not account for any change in circumstances – including how the vaccines do not stop the transmission of the Omicron variant,” Landry said in a statement.

“What’s more: the federal government has now made clear that it expects the states to implement this flawed policy with state employees. So I will continue fighting this ill-advised invasion of individual autonomy and my state’s rights.”

Healthcare leaders and hospital officials have said the COVID-19 vaccines have proven to be effective against the Omicron variant, and earlier variants. The vaccines have been particularly effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death. Hospital leaders said most of those hospitalized and in ICUs with COVID-19 have been unvaccinated.

Fourteen of the states in this new legal challenge have a Feb. 14 deadline to ensure most healthcare workers have had at least their first dose of the vaccine. Two states in the new legal challenge, Virginia and Tennessee, already passed the deadline for healthcare workers to get their first dose.

In its 5-4 decision upholding the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, the Supreme Court ruled the U.S. secretary of health and human services has the authority to impose conditions on the receipt of federal funds in the interests of public health.

The high court also noted the overwhelming support of healthcare organizations for the vaccine requirement for healthcare workers. The court rejected a separate order requiring vaccinations or regular COVID-19 testing at large employers.

Healthcare organization leaders cheered the court ruling on the vaccine order for healthcare workers. But they have also asked the government for patience as hospitals and nursing homes aim to comply.

Nursing homes and home health agencies that don’t comply could face fines and, as a last result, have their participation in Medicare and Medicaid terminated.

Hospitals and other acute care providers only have one enforcement remedy: the loss of Medicare and Medicaid funds. CMS has said it plans to work with healthcare providers who are trying to comply with the federal requirements.

Here’s the current schedule set out by CMS for healthcare workers to be vaccinated. States have different deadlines, due to the legal battles over the order.

The first 25 states

Healthcare workers in 25 states were required to complete their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine Jan. 27 and be fully vaccinated by Feb. 28: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state, and Wisconsin.

Healthcare workers in Washington, D.C. and other U.S. territories are also required to be fully vaccinated by Feb. 28.

The next 24 states

Workers in these 24 states must have at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by Feb. 14 and be fully vaccinated by March 15: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

Texas

Healthcare workers in Texas must have at least received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose by Feb. 22, CMS says. They must be fully vaccinated by March 21. Texas wasn’t part of the Supreme Court case and had a separate legal challenge, which was defeated.