The Biden administration on Thursday handed down a deadline for health care providers to get their workers vaccinated.
This comes at a time in the behavioral health industry where many providers struggle to fully staff up their operations in the face of a massive health care staff shortage. Some industry insiders believe new federal rules will only add to those challenges.
While it’s hard to put a precise measure on how a federal mandate would impact the industry, previous Behavioral Health Business reporting shows that the federal vaccine efforts have not always taken behavioral health and mental health operators into account.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) both announced the pending release of interim final rules on the matter on Thursday.
All health care operations that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding have until Dec. 5 to establish plans to get qualifying staff at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. In turn, all staffers have until Jan. 4, 2022, to get fully vaccinated.
Medicaid is the single largest payer of mental health services in the U.S.
“CMS’s goal is to bring health care providers into compliance,” CMS stated in a news release. “However, the agency will not hesitate to use its full enforcement authority to protect the health and safety of patients.”
OSHA set forth matching deadlines for companies that employ 100 or more workers.
Thursday’s announcements from CMS and OSHA don’t necessarily come as a surprise, though they do clarify exactly what the federal government expects from the broader health care sector.
Several industries have seen big players roll out vaccine mandates on their own. The news release states that about 40% of all hospitals in the country have mandates in place.
Additionally, some states and cities have already enacted their own vaccine mandates.
In August, the Biden administration announced a vaccine mandate that targeted the nursing home industry. A few weeks later, the Biden administration announced the vaccine mandate would also apply to all health care settings that received compensation from the public health plans for vulnerable populations enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid.
The CMS vaccine mandate is estimated to impact 76,000 providers and cover over 17 million health care workers across the country, the agency noted.
“There is no higher priority for us than patient health and safety. As the Delta variant strengthens, the Biden-Harris Administration is committed to doing everything we can to keep patients, and those who care for them, safe,” U.S. Health and Human Services Department Secretary Xavier Becerra said in the release. “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.”
The release makes the case that vaccine mandates drive up vaccination rates within organizations. It states that nursing home staff vaccination rates increased by nine percentage points to 71% from before the mandate came into effect.
CMS points to the ravages of the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes the disease known as Covid-19, and the need to protect patients from in-facility spread of the virus.
“Ensuring patient safety and protection from COVID-19 has been the focus of our efforts in combatting the pandemic and the constantly evolving challenges we’re seeing,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in the release. “Today’s action addresses the risk of unvaccinated health care staff to patient safety and provides stability and uniformity across the nation’s health care system to strengthen the health of people and the providers who care for them.”
The U.S. is on a downward trajectory in terms of new infections after living through a late summer and fall that saw a meteoric rise in the spread of the virus. Data maintained by the New York Times shows that the height of the most recent surge that new case numbers matched the heights of the winter season of 2020.
Presently, the average number of new cases in a week isn’t as high as it was a year ago following the approval and rollout of vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson for several age groups.