The U.S. Supreme Court building

The U.S. Supreme Court took the unusual step of announcing Wednesday night that it would hear arguments over the administration’s COVID-19 worker vaccine mandate on Jan. 7. That’s three days before the court was to restart hearing oral arguments for other cases.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ mandate for nursing home workers and millions of other healthcare employees will be in the spotlight. A vaccinate-or-test dictate for large private employers will garner perhaps even more interest nationwide. 

Both are on hold after lower federal courts issued emergency temporary injunctions.

Originally, the mandates set a Jan. 4 deadline for having workers fully vaccinated.

Some 17 million healthcare workers at more than 77,000 Medicare and Medicaid providers fall under the CMS conditions. The proposals have tied nursing home operators in knots over ongoing staffing shortages that they fear could worsen.

It was not immediately clear how quickly a Supreme Court decision might come after oral arguments.

Prior to Wednesday’s announcement, one legal expert predicted to McKnight’s that three COVID-19 vaccination mandates may eventually be tweaked and put in place weeks after originally intended.

Courts mixed on mandates

The land’s highest court has turned back challenges to vaccine mandates in other forms. It upheld one that didn’t include religious exemptions. The Jan. 7 arguments, however, are liable to differ and center on how much power federal agencies may exert. Lower courts have split on a handful of well-publicized cases involving COVID-19 mandates.

Jan. 7 will mark the third time this session that the Supreme Court holds such an expedited hearing. One of the others recently involved a Texas ban on most abortions after six weeks.

Most recent federal figures show that nationwide, nursing home staff have passed the 79% COVID-19 vaccination mark. That rate varies widely by state, however, with some well below 50%.

Unlike the Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandate for large employers, the CMS mandate would not allow a test-out option for healthcare workers.