Close-up image of vaccination being given in upper arm of older individual
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Staff in all Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities will soon be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced Thursday afternoon.

The policy expansion is precisely what nursing home stakeholders have been clamoring for after first being singled out with such a mandate Aug. 18. To be the only sector with such a mandate would leave long-term care operators extremely vulnerable to worker departures for other healthcare settings, nursing home advocates claimed.

CMS is developing an Interim Final Rule with Comment Period that will be issued in October, the agency said Thursday afternoon. Previously, it had said that nursing homes could expect an Interim Final Rule in September.

 The expanded policy will encompass patients of 50,000 providers and over 17 million healthcare workers in Medicare and Medicaid certified facilities, according to CMS.

President Biden also announced a rule requiring vaccinations or weekly negative COVID-19 tests for all employers with 100 or more workers Thursday afternoon. The requirement could carry a $14,000 fine per violation and would affect two-thirds of the country’s workforce, according to officials.

The administration’s new rules will turn the pressure from only sub-sectors such as nursing homes and federal employees to tens of millions more Americans.

“Facilities across the country should make efforts now to get healthcare staff vaccinated to make sure they are in compliance when the rule takes effect,” the agency said in a statement announcing the policy, was issued in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Emergency regulations will be expanded to include hospitals, dialysis facilities, ambulatory surgical settings and home health agencies, among others, as a condition for participating in the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

“The decision was based on the continued and growing spread of the virus in health care settings, especially in parts of the U.S. with higher incidence of COVID-19,” CMS announced. 

“There is no question that staff, across any healthcare setting, who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra in the CMS statement. “Ensuring safety and access to all patients, regardless of their entry point into the healthcare system, is essential.”

The announcement will be welcomed by long-term care providers after President Joe Biden in mid-August announced that all Medicare- and Medicaid-certified nursing homes must vaccinate all workers against COVID-19 or risk losing funding from the programs.

Provider advocates had criticized the federal government for singling out the long-term care industry with its vaccine mandate. They argued the regulation would cause a “mass exodus of workers” from the profession and into other healthcare settings.

Please check back for updates to this evolving story.