Although the agency is waiting to formalize the official paperwork, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will no longer enforce the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for hospice staff and other health care workers.
The COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) ended on May 11. The Biden administration earlier this month announced that it would terminate vaccination mandates for federal workers and other groups. The White House – also at that time – said that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) was doing the same for Medicare- and Medicaid-certified health care providers, which include hospice organizations.
“Today, we are announcing that the Administration will end the COVID-19 vaccine requirements for federal employees, federal contractors and international air travelers at the end of the day on May 11, the same day that the COVID-19 public health emergency ends,” the administration said in a May 1 statement.
CMS has now uploaded a draft version of its final rule on withdrawing COVID-19 vaccine requirements for health care workers. The draft is scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on June 5.
CMS published its emergency interim final rule (IFC) establishing requirements regarding COVID-19 vaccine immunization of staff among Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers on Nov. 5, 2021.
“At this point in time, we believe that the risks targeted by the staff vaccination IFC have been largely addressed, so we are now aligning our approach with those for other infectious diseases, specifically influenza,” the CMS draft final rule states. “Accordingly, CMS intends to encourage ongoing COVID-19 vaccination through its quality reporting and value-based incentive programs in the near future.”
In normal circumstances, federal rules become effective 60 days after publication.
But with the PHE ending on May 11, CMS will stop enforcing vaccine requirements before that point.
“Our decision to terminate the omnibus facility staff vaccination requirements in this final rule reflect our determination that the emergency circumstances which occasioned these vaccination provisions no longer exist,” CMS noted. “Since facilities are no longer operating under PHE circumstances, and considering the lower policy priority of enforcement within the remaining time, we will not be enforcing the staff vaccination provisions between now and [60 days from the rule’s publication].”
Even with federal vaccine requirements going away, hospice operators will still need to stay updated on local rules and regulations. Some facilities, such as skilled nursing or senior living organizations, may also have their own vaccination rules for clinicians entering their buildings.
Additionally, CMS will still encourage vaccinations, which have proven effective in combating the spread of COVID-19.
Hospice providers had been waiting for clarity around the federal vaccine rules since last month.
“A lot of providers are asking about this, especially if they are in areas with low incidences of COVID,” Judi Lund Person, vice president of regulatory and compliance at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), previously told Hospice News. “Does it mean they can relax COVID screenings for employees who are not fully vaccinated? That’s a question we don’t know the answer to yet. For new employees, it’s continuing to check their vaccination status. For the moment, when they’re surveyed, the surveyor will be looking at the vaccination record log of employees.”
Just over 6 million patients admitted to hospitals in the United States have been confirmed positive with COVID-19 infection since Aug. 1, 2020, according to CDC statistics. Approximately 1.1 million COVID-19 deaths have been reported in the U.S. as of April 14.
“COVID-19 has had significant negative health effects on individuals, communities and the nation as a whole,” the CMS draft rule states. “Over a year ago, in September 2021, COVID-19 overtook the 1918 influenza pandemic as the deadliest disease in American history.”