House passes bill to block HHS from enforcing vaccine mandate in some healthcare facilities

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Tuesday that seeks to end the vaccine mandate for some health care workers, marking the first pandemic-related bill the Republican majority has approved since taking control of the chamber.

The legislation, titled the Health Care Workers Freedom Act, passed by a vote of 227-203, with seven Democrats joining Republicans in passing the bill.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (RS.C.), calls for suspending the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) from enforcing workplace regulations and standards put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic — including the vaccine mandate – in Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities.

Under the rules, healthcare workers in Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities are required to receive at least their first dose in a primary series of coronavirus vaccinations in order to provide care, treatment or services. Over 10 million healthcare workers in approximately 76,000 facilities are subject to vaccine requirements.

The emergency standards were first issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2021 to minimize the risk of coronavirus spreading among healthcare workers and patients, and went into effect early last year. year. The regulations were hotly contested in the courts, with the Supreme Court ultimately ruling last year to uphold the requirements set out for healthcare workers, while striking down a similar requirement that had been proposed for large employers.

Employees, including doctors, technicians and nurses, potentially face termination if they do not comply with the mandate, although some religious and medical exemptions are included in the requirements. If noncompliance occurs throughout the facility, then termination of the Medicare and Medicaid programs may occur.

Implementation of the vaccine requirements set by the Biden administration has received support from medical groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association.

Although these rules are issued in response to the ongoing public health emergency (PHE) COVID-19, they are not contingent on the PHE remaining in effect. The White House announced Monday that PHE is set to end on May 11.

As OSHA noted in 2021, Medicare’s interim final rules, such as the vaccine requirement, expire three years after they are issued unless they are finalized.

“This is no exception. The requirement expires in November 2024 if CMS takes no further action,” a spokesperson for the Centers or Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a statement to The Hill.

House Democrats were quick to condemn the bill during the debate.

“The Health Care Workers Freedom Act. Really? Freedom from what?” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said on the floor. “The COVID-19 vaccine has enabled our heroic nurses and healthcare workers to save lives and protect the most vulnerable, including senior citizens. but you know we’re not done with it yet. People are still getting sick and dying.”

Rep. Robert Garcia (D-Calif.) criticized the proposed legislation as “cruel” and an “attack on public health.”

“Why endanger vulnerable populations? It’s cruel and irrational,” Garcia said.

Republican Rep. Larry Buckshon (D-Indiana) spoke in support of Duncan’s bill, adding that he supports vaccinating health care workers.

“I just don’t think CMS should be mandating it nationally,” Buckshon said.

Michael Schnell contributed.

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