In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) vaccine mandate, while blocking the mandate for U.S. businesses with 100 or more employees.
Justices Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagen ruled to uphold the CMS mandate while Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett dissented.
The mandate covers approximately 10 million healthcare workers at roughly 76,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities. The majority in the CMS case argued that the government had the ability to mandate the vaccine as it dealt with facilities that received Medicare and Medicaid funding.
“After all, ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the court ruling stated.
This ruling ended a block on the mandate that had been put in place in over 24 states by judges in Missouri and Louisiana. Another block on the mandate from a Texas judge was not impacted by the ruling.
“In November 2021, the Secretary announced that, in order to receive Medicare and Medicaid funding, participating facilities must ensure that their staff—unless exempt for medical or religious reasons—are vaccinated against COVID–19,” the court’s decision explained. “Two District Courts enjoined enforcement of the rule, and the Government now asks us to stay those injunctions. Agreeing that it is entitled to such relief, we grant the applications.”
Now, most healthcare workers across the country have until the end of February to comply with the mandate.
In his dissent, Thomas argued that CMS does not have the authority to force healthcare workers to take the vaccine.
“These cases are not about the efficacy or importance of COVID–19 vaccines. They are only about whether CMS has the statutory authority to force healthcare workers, by coercing their employers, to undergo a medical procedure they do not want and cannot undo,” he wrote.
The mandate has led to concerns about worker shortages at healthcare facilities. Mayo Clinic let go about 700 of its employees due to its vaccine mandate earlier this month.
“Some providers have said the vaccine stipulation could result in massive employee losses and force closures due to already historic staffing shortages,” McKnight’s Long-Term Care News reported. “A McKnight’s Long-Term Care News survey in late December found 75% of U.S. nursing homes restricted admissions due to staffing shortages or related pandemic issues in 2021.”
While the court did allow the CMS mandate to go forward, it blocked the mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees.
“Technically, the Supreme Court wasn’t considering the full merits of the administration’s mandates,” the Wall Street Journal explained. “Instead, the justices heard the cases on an emergency basis to decide whether the regulations could go into effect right now while more detailed litigation continued in the lower courts.”