Medicine & Health

House Republicans vow fight over CMS vaccine rule

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President Joe Biden’s new rule that healthcare employers must vaccinate their workforces against COVID-19 or face the loss of Medicare and Medicaid revenue has provoked predictable objections from Republicans, two senior lawmakers said Thursday.

The GOP will seek ways to block the regulation, including subjecting it to a Congressional Review Act resolution vote on the House floor in an attempt to repeal it, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Brett Guthrie (R.-Ky.), the top Republican on that panel’s health subcommittee, said in a news release.

“Our healthcare workers have been serving as frontline heroes during this pandemic. They deserve our gratitude—not mandates that force them to make a choice to comply with the federal government or lose their livelihoods altogether,” McMorris Rodgers and Guthrie said.

CMS’s highly anticipated interim final rule directs providers that treat Medicare and Medicaid patients—meaning virtually all providers—to enforce novel coronavirus vaccination mandates by Jan. 4. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration separately published rule requiring businesses with more than 100 workers to require vaccines or weekly testing for employees by the same date. The agencies will accept public comments on the regulations until 60 days after their publication.

Several GOP-led states have filed or plan to file lawsuits against the federal government over the OSHA rule.

Legal experts say the CMS rule is on stronger ground than the OSHA regulation. The health agency’s policy is tied to the rules of participation for Medicare and Medicaid, and adds a COVID-19 vaccination requirement to those existing standards.

CMS’s legal authority is broad and concrete, said James Hodge, director of the Center for Public Health Law and Policy at Arizona State University. “They do get to say: ‘If you don’t want to receive these federal funds, then you don’t have to. Walk away if you want’,” Hodge said.

Congress can reject federal regulations on a simple majority vote via the Congressional Review Act, but even a successful effort would surely face a presidential veto, which requires support from two-thirds of the House and Senate to override. Given Democratic majorities in both chambers, either outcome is unlikely.

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