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10 red states sue over vaccine mandate for health workers

The Republican-led states call the vaccine mandate for employees at health care facilities an unconstitutional and unprecedented federal overreach.

(CN) — Missouri and nine other states sued the Biden administration in federal court Wednesday with the aim of blocking enforcement of a mandate that health care facilities receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funds require their employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Missouri calls the mandate an unconstitutional violation of the plaintiff states’ sovereignty that will create a severe shortage of health care workers when those who oppose vaccines are forced to quit their jobs. Missouri was joined in the suit by Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South and North Dakota, and New Hampshire. All 10 states are led by Republican governors.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, a Republican, called the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates affecting large private employers, federal contractors, and now health care workers an “unprecedent overreach.”

“Unfortunately, with this latest mandate from the Biden administration, last year’s health care heroes are turning into this year’s unemployed,” Schmitt said in a statement Wednesday. “Requiring health care workers to get a vaccination or face termination is unconstitutional and unlawful, and could exacerbate health care staffing shortages to the point of collapse, especially in Missouri’s rural areas.”

The complaint quotes Dr. Randy Tobler, CEO of Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, Missouri, a small rural hospital, as saying he believes a vaccine mandate will encourage his staff to quit rather than receive the vaccine. “There were people in the hospital that freely shared that if the vaccine mandate happened . . . they would not work here. That’s just something they weren’t going to put in their body," he said.

The administration’s vaccine mandate issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) for health care workers covers 15 categories of Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers and suppliers, according to the 58-page complaint.

“By expanding its reach in this way, the mandate broadly sweeps in a diverse set of health care providers," the complaint states. "These include, among others, rural health clinics, hospitals, long-term-care facilities, and home health agencies.”

Nearly all hospitals in the United States participate in the Medicare program, according to the CMS.

The vaccine mandate “directly injures” the 10 plaintiff states, all of which participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs, they say. The complaint states the mandate “seeks to transform” those federal-state agreements “in drastic ways far beyond any terms that the states have accepted.”

“The CMS vaccine mandate seeks to commandeer” state employees of the plaintiff states who enforce Medicare and Medicaid compliance with the vaccine mandate “to become enforcers of CMS’s unlawful attempt to federalize national vaccine policy and override the states’ police power on matters of health and safety,” the complaint states. “By requiring state-run healthcare facilities and state surveyors to enforce the CMS vaccine mandate, that mandate directly infringes the plaintiff states’ sovereign authority.”

In addition to workers who choose to quit rather than being vaccinated, the Republican-led states claim health care providers that refuse to comply with the CMS rule or otherwise refuse to cooperate will face termination of their Medicare and/or Medicaid funding.

The complaint, which names as defendants President Joe Biden and six other executive branch officials and agencies, asserts nine counts where the Biden administration rule is allegedly illegal. Among them, the states say the rule violates the federal Administrative Procedures Act, the Social Security Act and the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit Wednesday.

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