Recently, the Supreme Court upheld a Biden vaccine mandate that would require all healthcare providers at facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandate is a significant infringement against the freedom of our healthcare workers. Not only that, but this mandate is yet another example of the federal government using the pandemic as an excuse for gross government overreach of what Health and Human Services (HHS), particularly the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), can accomplish.
CMS was established as an arm of HHS to oversee the Medicare program and partner with state governments to administer Medicaid to eligible Americans. In other words, the sole purpose of CMS is to ensure Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are provided with insurance to cover the care they need. And yet, the Supreme Court has decided that this vaccine mandate for healthcare providers "falls within the authorities that Congress has conferred upon" the agency. The Court seems to believe that requiring the healthcare providers to get the COVID vaccination aligns with the agency's purpose.
This holding raises the question, "How does requiring healthcare providers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 affect healthcare providers' ability to administer care to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries?" In short, it doesn't. COVID-19 vaccination status of healthcare workers has absolutely nothing to do with quality or accessibility of care. So why did the CMS vaccine mandate survive the Supreme Court when all it will accomplish is limiting the supply of healthcare workers and further increase the wait for services? Yet another supply chain issue for this administration.
The holding of the Court seems to rely on alternative facts. The argument is that vaccination of healthcare providers will stop transmission from providers to patients. While the vaccine is the best method of protection against severe illness, it is not as successful at protecting against the spread of COVID-19, which is different from other vaccines. The vaccine does help lessen transmission rates compared to the unvaccinated population, but both vaccinated, and unvaccinated populations are spreading the disease. Moreover, how often are people contracting COVID-19 from healthcare providers? COVID is more often contracted from other patients, not from providers. A study found that 80% of cases can be traced back to other patients, not healthcare providers. Finally, we need to start transitioning to a policy of treating COVID-19 as endemic versus pandemic. This virus is not going away, and unfortunately, we will have to live with it. Refinement of treatments continues as the virus is no longer a "novel" coronavirus. A policy that assumes defeat of the virus versus management of it is how we get a COVID-19 vaccine mandate. We will not defeat this as we did with smallpox. All things considered, the vaccination status against COVID-19 of healthcare workers does not affect the mission of CMS and is wholly unconstitutional.
The reasoning behind the Supreme Court's decision is an enormous mistake that will affect the lives of millions of healthcare providers. In Alabama alone, there are over 120 hospitals that accept Medicare beneficiaries. Every healthcare provider employed by these hospitals will be required to be vaccinated. Think of how many lives this mandate may affect. Many of these workers will have to choose between their livelihoods and a vaccination, creating a healthcare worker crisis. Governor DeSantis understood this and took a stand against this Biden vaccine mandate, writing in a statement that "the state of Florida will not serve as the Biden administration's biomedical police." Our great state of Alabama must not act as biomedical police either. Governor Ivey and the State Legislature need to stand up to this vaccine mandate and protect our healthcare providers from gross infringement upon their rights. This will thus ensure that seniors and the neediest have the healthcare services they deserve and need.
This mandate is an absurd policy and only exists due to a flawed understanding and gross overreach of the mission of CMS. Gone are the days of the healthcare heroes, and in are the days of the healthcare scapegoats. COVID-19 vaccination status of healthcare providers has nothing to do with the accessibility and quality of care for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Instead, the federal government is yet again using the pandemic as an excuse to reach further into the lives of its citizens. CMS needs to ensure all beneficiaries who want a COVID-19 vaccination can obtain one, ensuring any beneficiary, vaccinated or not, who may fall ill has the insurance coverage for the care they need.
Dr. Chad Mathis is a former senior policy advisor at Health and Human Services in the Trump Administration, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, entrepreneur, and a distinguished fellow at the Alabama Policy Institute. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.