Countries and companies will have to decide for themselves whether American workers should be required to get coronavirus vaccines, after President Joe Biden’s major vaccination was authorized by the US Supreme Court.
Yesterday the court blocked Biden’s workplace health rule that would have required companies with 100 or more employees to either mandate a Covid-19 vaccination or take a weekly test. A separate rule requiring vaccination for federal contractors had earlier been halted amid legal battles.
Taken together, Supreme Court decisions absolve millions of workers from the measures Biden announced in the fall as vaccinations slow and variable delta causes a new spike in cases. Despite ample supplies of shots, the United States tracks other industrialized nations poorly in vaccinations, with less than 63% of the population fully immunized, according to Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
The US vaccination campaign has been plagued by political divisions, with polls showing Republicans less willing to get shots than Democrats. Several Republican political leaders fought against the vaccine mandates, and some unfoundedly questioned the safety and effectiveness of the shots, undermining Biden’s efforts to curb the pandemic.
Lawrence Justin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University, said the employer mandate “was the single most effective policy to vaccinate people.” The judges have generally made clear that companies are free to require vaccines for their employees, and Biden has urged companies and states to impose their own mandates.
As of now, the United States has two remaining mandates. One requires the vaccination of nearly 10 million health care workers in participating hospitals in Medicare and Medicaid and in other health care settings, which the court upheld yesterday. The other rule requires shots for most federal workers. The court’s ruling on health care workers is a benefit to the administration. Biden said the rule would save the lives of workers and patients alike: “We’re going to enforce it.” Read more from Josh Wingrove.
The decision indicates that there are problems with the rules of other Occupational Health and Safety Administration rules for infectious diseases. The Supreme Court’s decision does not halt other efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to curb Covid-19, including issuing workplace hazard citations under the general duty clause, which has served as a bulwark for enforcement efforts thus far.
Brent Clark, partner with Seafarth Shaw in Chicago and co-chair of the company’s safety and environment group, said he was pleased that the court’s majority opinion supported OSHA’s ability to regulate occupational hazards while rejecting the emergency standard as a public health measure. “It appears that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been trying to address the public health problem through the occupational health standard,” Clark said. Read more from Bruce Rolfsen.
Companies threatened by omicron proliferation may have to implement The vaccine, however, forces their workers to be protected and factories to be kept open.
While many companies have already enforced their own vaccine requirements, about 1 in 3 employers plan to do so only if OSHA takes effect. These companies now face a decision that may be forced upon them by the high rates of Covid-19 infection that have led to high rates of absenteeism in factories, hospitals and other workplaces.
“With this new alternative, employers who were previously on the fence about doing a mandate will have to consider whether testing or vaccination will only be necessary to continue operating,” said Rachel Kohn, employment and OSHA partner at law firm Nixon Peabody. “It might just be about keeping the facility open at this point.” Read more from Matthew Boyle.
In the meantime, healthcare facilities must work again toward compliance With the Biden administration’s vaccine mandated, lawyers advising hospitals and other medical providers said in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow that requirement to go ahead.
Frank Morris Jr., a member of Epstein Becker & Green, said health care providers should be “as fast forward” in their efforts to comply with the requirements.
But providers may have a short time frame to take action. The deadline for workers at facilities in states not affected by lower court orders to get their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine is January 27, according to CMS. The agency did not say whether it would offer an alternative deadline for states involved in the lawsuit, which reached the Supreme Court. Read more from Allie Reed.
happen on the hill
The future of Trump-ERA Medicare spurs the fight: A growing number of Democrats in Congress are pushing the Biden administration to end a little-known Medicare program that they say is undermining healthcare for seniors. The effort, backed by dozens of House Democrats, is part of the fight to reshape Medicare between groups that seek to provide traditional public coverage to every American, and industry groups that want more flexibility in how they treat patients.
“This is an assault on conventional medical care,” said Ed Weispart, president of the Missouri branch of Physicians of the National Health Program. His group supports the creation of a single-payer health system in the United States, and Weisbart’s group is lobbying lawmakers and federal officials to end a program that allows Medicare providers to get paid lump sums for treating patients rather than bills for each service provided. The experiment began under the Trump administration and continued under Biden. Read more from Alex Ruoff.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) chooses to apply to the entire Senate: Robert Califf is close to becoming the new head of the Food and Drug Administration after a Senate committee put forward his nomination yesterday. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee voted 13-8 to support Califf, who previously headed the agency in the final year of the Obama administration. The vote came after a hearing in which he won bipartisan support from committee members, despite some opposition over his ties to the drug industry. Sense. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Maggie Hassan (DN.H.) Most Republicans joined in voting no. Céline Castronovo has more.
- Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) will also oppose Califf’s nomination, saying it was not the lead agency that needed to effectively regulate addictive opioids. Markey said he met with Calliff to discuss how the FDA can best work to address addiction issues, but did not commit to “taking the decisive and comprehensive action necessary to ensure the reforms that the FDA, under his leadership, will implement on opioid regulation.” Find the statement from Marche here.
Lawmakers say loosening blood donation regulations: Congressional Democrats want the Biden administration to allow men who have had sex with another man to donate blood without any delay. More than 20 Democratic senators sent a letter to federal health officials yesterday demanding that they update the Food and Drug Administration’s blood donation guidelines amid a blood shortage reported by the Red Cross. Separately, the House Supervisory Chair Caroline Maloney (DN.Y.) asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to reconsider the three-month deferral of blood donation by men who have had sex with another man. Read more from Alex Ruoff.
Corona virus pandemic
Government services falter on federal sick days: Passengers at Phoenix Airport had to be transferred to the unified checkpoints because several security personnel called in sick. In a courtroom in San Jose, California, a federal judge has postponed the highly anticipated fraud trial of the president of Theranos Inc. The former is because jurors cannot be brought in to fill out questionnaires. And in supermarkets from coast to coast, consumers can soon pay more for ground beef as meatpacking plants and slaughterhouses slow production due to a lack of government inspectors.
Across the country, a record-breaking coronavirus outbreak is crippling a federal civilian workforce of two million. This has led to delays in processing tax returns, drug approvals and even diplomats traveling abroad as workers call in sick, quarantine or stay home to care for sick family members. Read more from Ari Natter.
Biden doubles down on at-home testing order, offers masks: Biden said his administration will double order rapid Covid-19 tests to send to Americans, while also distributing “high-quality” masks to help fight the omicron variant. The plan to buy another 500 million at-home tests comes as the US faces shortages, creating long lines at test centers and a dearth of rapid at-home tests in stores. At the same time, the prices of masks that provide the highest level of protection are rising. Health researchers recommend N95 and KN95 masks. With the price of omicrons on the rise, people flocked to buy them, driving up their prices. Read more from Josh Wingrove, Courtney Rozen, and Justin Sink.
Hospital admissions show Omicron’s spread to the West: The burden of Covid-19 on US health care facilities is spreading from the Northeast to parts of the West Coast, as well as rural states across the country. The average seven-day hospitalization with Covid-19 rose 76% in Alaska, 59% in Idaho and 53% in Arkansas over the past week, according to Department of Health and Human Services data. Oregon and California wrapped up the worst five states in terms of momentum with admissions up 52% and 51%, respectively, while the Northeast is flashing signs that cases will decline within days. Read more from Jonathan Levine.
- Covid-19 cases are on the rise among nursing home workers in the US Almost tenfold in recent weeks as Omicron has raced through senior care facilities. Data from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), a record number of 57,000 nursing home workers, showed positive results during the week ending January 9, up from about 6,000 in the week ending December 19. Nearly 32,000 residents tested positive last week, close to the previous peak in late 2020. Read more from John Tosi.
The virus loses most of its infective capacity after 20 minutes: Analysis from the University of Bristol’s Aerosol Research Center shows that SARS-CoV-2 loses most of its ability to infect soon after exhalation and is less likely to be infectious over longer distances. Researchers found that the virus loses 90% of its ability to infect 20 minutes after it is airborne and that most of the loss occurs in the first five minutes of it reaching the air, according to the study. With some countries opening up debate about an endemic phase of the pandemic, insights into how the virus is transmitted will help guide their approach. Irina Angel has more.
What else you need to know today
Biogen Preps fights for more Alzheimer’s drug coverage: Biogen executives have vowed to fight to reverse Medicare’s initial decision to sharply restrict coverage of the company’s Alzheimer’s drug, while saying further cost reductions and strategic measures are possible if the move continues. The drug company is urging patients and physicians to show their disagreement with plans to restrict Aduhhelm’s reimbursement for patients in randomized trials. It’s likely that only a small portion of patients will have access to the drug under the law, CEO Michel Vonatsos said, according to Robert Langreth and Angelica Peebles.
Nursing homes, home health set for Medicare cutbacks in 2023: A federal advisory panel will recommend to Congress a 5% reduction in traditional Medicare payments to nursing homes, home health agencies, and inpatient rehabilitation facilities in 2023. After assessing the adequacy of the payment, the Medicare Payments Advisory Committee found that the three groups of providers were receiving enough reimbursement for The services they provide. MedPAC provides lawmakers with analysis and policy advice on the taxpayer-funded Medicare program. Read more from Tony Pogue.
Editor’s note: The Bloomberg Government Health Care Briefing will not be published on Monday, January 17, the Martin Luther King Jr. federal holiday. We will be back Tuesday January 18th.
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