The Biden administration announced plans Thursday to boost COVID vaccinations nationwide, which includes employees of health facilities that receive federal funding.
The plans — which are aimed at containing the spread of the delta variant — will require all staff at federally funded facilities to be vaccinated. Those facilities include major hospitals that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, which also provide various inpatient psychiatric care services.
The new plans for vaccinated staff also come as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees federal insurance payments to health facilities, is expected to increase Medicare payments to inpatient psychiatric facilities by $80 million for its 2022 Fiscal Year.
Medicaid is also the biggest single payer in the country for behavioral health services, according to Medicaid.gov.
“There is no question that staff, across any health care setting, who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “Ensuring safety and access to all patients, regardless of their entry point into the health care system, is essential.”
The Biden administration’s new requirements expand the number of health care providers that were required to have fully vaccinated staff starting last month. The president’s August vaccination order was for over 15,000 nursing homes across the country receiving federal insurance payments. At the time, 62% of nursing home staff were vaccinated, ranging from 88% at the high end at the state level to 44% at the low end.
Health care workers who are not currently vaccinated have been urged to do so immediately. Previously, health care workers at federally funded facilities faced a range of restrictions if they did not agree to get vaccinated.
The first allocation of vaccinations to health care workers started late last year. Almost immediately, a leading behavioral health care trade group voiced concerns that the industry’s frontline workers were not being prioritized when it came to receiving shots.
“[M]ental illness and substance use disorder are also chronic conditions and often require long-term inpatient and outpatient care on a revolving and routine basis,” the National Council for Mental Wellbeing wrote in a letter last December. “Providers working in inpatient psychiatric hospitals, residential substance use treatment facilities, community behavioral health organizations and outpatient substance use disorder treatment facilities are essential health care providers and should be categorized as frontline providers, therefore making them eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in its earliest phase of distribution.”
CMS announced the new mandate in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CMS is developing an Interim Final Rule with Comment Period guideline on the mandate, which will be issued in October.