TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After a U.S. Supreme Court ruling this month that backed the Biden administration, Florida has dropped its appeal in a legal fight against federal COVID-19 vaccination requirements for health care workers.
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office filed a motion Friday to dismiss an appeal that was filed at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That appeal came after a Pensacola-based district judge in November refused to block the vaccination requirements for workers at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers.
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The motion cited a Jan. 13 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that upheld the vaccination requirements in cases from other parts of the country.
The requirements, which apply to providers that take part in the Medicaid and Medicare programs, will start to take effect Thursday in Florida. At that point, workers will need to have received at least one dose of vaccine or have pending requests for exemptions. Workers will have an additional month to become fully vaccinated.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration has continued to oppose the requirements and vowed not to help carry them out. Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Simone Marstiller said after the Supreme Court ruling that her agency will “not survey for compliance with the CMS (federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) vaccine mandate rule.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature in November held a special session that included passing legislation to bar vaccination mandates for workers. But many Florida health care providers appear to plan to comply with the federal requirements after the Supreme Court ruling.
Facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes depend heavily on funding from the Medicare and Medicaid programs and don’t want to jeopardize the money.
“Our members are obligated to comply with the CMS rule and they have been planning accordingly,” Nick Van Der Linden, a spokesman for LeadingAge Florida, a long-term care industry group, said in an email Monday. “The potential loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding for not following the federal law could be devastating to providers and ultimately displace Florida’s most frail elders.”
Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, the largest nursing-home group in the state, also pointed to concerns about lost funding as facilities plan to comply.
“The Agency for Health Care Administration has indicated it will not survey for compliance with the CMS mandate; however, our members are working toward following the federal CMS mandate,” Knapp said in an email. “Given the majority of our residents rely on Medicaid or Medicare, the risk to facilities of losing their Medicare/Medicaid certification is too great for providers not to comply.”
Both organizations have held educational campaigns to keep their members informed about the requirements and how to proceed, Van Der Linden and Knapp said. A key concern has been that requiring vaccinations will exacerbate worker shortages.
“As facilities brace for the January 27 deadline, there is a concern that the repercussions of the vaccine mandate among health care workers will be devastating to our long-term care workforce,” Knapp said in the email. “The staffing shortages are at crisis levels and forcing our care centers to limit admissions, which threatens access to care for our state’s seniors.”
As of Jan. 9, Knapp said the nursing-home staff vaccination rate was about 76 percent. Van Der Linden said Monday that 87 percent of staff at his members’ communities — which include nursing homes and other types of facilities — are fully vaccinated.
“Because workforce is the biggest concern for most of our members, some providers had concerns initially that implementing a mandate could cause them to lose staff during a time when they were already grappling with significant shortages,” Van Der Linden said in the email. “However, we also had members that had mandates in place before it was a requirement and so far no provider has reported a major exodus of staff after requiring vaccination as a condition of employment.”
Moody’s office filed the state’s lawsuit Nov. 17 in federal court in Pensacola seeking to block the vaccination rule, which the Biden administration issued earlier in November. The lawsuit contended that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services overstepped its authority with the requirements and violated a law known as the Administrative Procedure Act.
But U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers rejected the state’s request for a preliminary injunction or a temporary restraining order against the requirements. As the case remained pending at the Atlanta-based appeals court, the Supreme Court backed the Biden administration in a 5-4 ruling.