Healthcare worker vaccinates young woman

Correction: Employees must receive a first vaccine dose by Dec. 6, not Dec. 5. This has been corrected in the story.

Employees of home health agencies and other home care organizations that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs must receive a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment or other services by Dec. 6, according to an emergency regulation released today by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Staff must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, 2022.

Keith Myers, chairman and CEO of LHC Group, applauded the regulation during an earnings call with analysts Thursday morning. Myers said the rule “evens the playing field” for all home healthcare agencies.

“I think this helps us because a lot of our hospitals and health system partners have wanted to go in that direction,” Myers said. “Some did and asked us to follow. My concerns was if we went out and implemented something like this, then we could have employees leaving us and going to other providers who were more lax in this area.”

“Today’s action addresses the risk of unvaccinated health care staff to patient safety and provides stability and uniformity across the nation’s health care system to strengthen the health of people and the providers who care for them,” CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said today in a statement.

President Biden first issued the federal mandate in September. Today’s notice offers the details pertaining to the mandate.

The regulation provides for exemptions based on recognized medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances or practices, according to CMS. Agencies must develop a similar process or plan for permitting exemptions in alignment with federal law.

Besides home health agencies, those facilities subject to the regulation include hospices, home infusion therapy suppliers, Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, rural health clinics, end-stage renal disease facilities, long-term care facilities, clinics (rehabilitation agencies, and public health agencies as providers of outpatient physical therapy and speech-language pathology services) and ambulatory surgical centers.

OSHA rule

In a separate regulation released today, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is requiring that employers with 100 or more employees have a fully vaccinated workforce or employees who test negative for COVID-19 once a week. The deadline for full vaccinations is Jan. 4. For unvaccinated employees, weekly testing is required after that date. This rule covers 84 million employees.

Employers must provide paid time to workers to get vaccinated and paid leave to recover from any side effects that keep employees from being able to work, according to a senior administration official who spoke at a press conference on Wednesday.

OSHA will help employers develop a vaccine or testing requirement program, the senior administration official said. It will offer compliance assistance to businesses implementing the standard, including sample plans, factsheets, frequently asked questions and other materials.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.