Long-term care providers and other healthcare employers remain in the dark as to what will be required with the federal government’s impending COVID-19 vaccination mandate for employees.

But they know an announcement is coming soon. When it does, it’s liable to ignite a flurry of operational questions, much as the original announcement of a nursing homes-only mandate and then a broader all-healthcare worker dictate did in August and September, respectively.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said Monday that updated details on the government’s conditions for taking part in the Medicaid or Medicare programs can be expected soon.

“CMS anticipates issuing this combined regulation in mid- to late-October,” a CMS spokeswoman confirmed in an email to McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

The original nursing-homes only interim rule issuance was expected in late September. But when expanded mandate terms were announced, the complexity increased — and the release date for a rule was pushed back. Joining nursing homes under the future mandate will be home health agencies, hospitals, dialysis facilities and surgical centers, among others.

“We’re getting pretty close,” American Health Care Association President and CEO Mark Parkinson told McKnight’s on Friday.  “We’re as anxious as anybody to see if they follow our advice on making it workable in buildings.”

“There’s no back-and-forth discussion because they’re prohibited from doing that,” Parkinson added. “They’ve been highly professional and have not given us any inkling of the direction they’re going. There’s been no winks and nods. They’re keeping everything as they should, so we don’t know.”

CMS has a spotty past of employing provider recommendations on pending rules so there’s no way to handicap whether operators’ comments and advice will be followed.

The day after CMS announced its original nursing home-only mandate, AHCA delivered the agency a six-point wish list to make it compatible for skilled nursing facilities.

“The good news is, they already implemented the first,” Parkinson noted, referring to the mandate expansion to other providers. “That’s major progress.”

AHCA’s six-point plan was included in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.

Highlights include a call to offer a daily COVID-19 testing alternative instead of a vaccination mandate for employees who refuse to get the shots, as well as a request of $25 million to restart an enhanced education program aimed at employees.

In the Aug. 20 letter, AHCA also asked for $3 billion from it to help with the expenses of paying for agency staffing if vaccine-averse employees leave and to administer a new wave of inoculations. 

The association also addressed one of the most galling aspects for operators, asking that providers be allowed to ask visitors about their vaccination and test results — and require vaccination or negative tests prior to visits. 

“This should also apply to federal and state survey inspectors and ombudsmen,” Parkinson emphasized in the letter.