November 10, 2021 (Anchorage) – Alaska joined a coalition of states today in a lawsuit to block a federal government effort to make health care providers force their employees to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
A new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service (CMS) rule would mandate vaccines for almost every full-time, part-time, volunteer or contract employee working in many health care settings that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding. CMS estimates more than 10.3 million Americans would fall under this overarching mandate.
“This new rule is an insult to the personal freedoms of the health-care heroes who have been critical to Alaska’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy. “This is unconstitutional and yet another example of the Biden Administration’s overreach on issues that should be left to the states.”
Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor and attorneys general from nine other states filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. The plaintiffs seek an injunction to prohibit CMS from enforcing the mandate on grounds that the rule violates the 10th Amendment, the federal Administrative Procedures Act and other federal laws.
“The 10th Amendment prohibits federal agencies from taking away powers that are reserved to the states, which know best how to enact the kinds of public health measures to best fit the needs of its citizens,” Attorney General Taylor said. “This rule would punish our rural hospitals and countless health care workers across Alaska by withholding Medicare and Medicaid funding if they don’t comply with a mandate. The courts have already stopped one overreaching federal vaccine mandate in the 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals, and we hope this one will be blocked as well.”
The CMS mandate covers a broad group of Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers, including rural health clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities and home health agencies. Under the rule, health care workers must receive their first vaccine dose by Dec. 5 and be fully vaccinated no later than Jan. 4. Unlike the proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule, CMS’s regulations provide no mechanism for employees to undergo testing rather than be vaccinated.
The rule makes exceptions only for specific medical or religious reasons.
The health care industry already faces a worker shortage in nearly all areas, likely to be exacerbated by the CMS mandate. There are critical shortages of nursing aides and nurses at nearly a quarter of all American long-term care facilities. The lawsuit estimates that if the CMS mandate is left in place, more than 200,000 healthcare workers could lose their jobs.
The lawsuit calls the mandate “an affront to the millions of healthcare workers who risked their lives in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to care for strangers and friends in their communities,” and that the federal government has cast aside the health care workers who have personal reasons for not wanting the COVID-19 vaccine.
In addition to Alaska, the states in the lawsuit are Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming. Read the full complaint here.