Ten states filed a lawsuit on Wednesday seeking to block the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for health care workers, on the heels of a court decision that temporarily halted the broader U.S. requirement that workers of all large employers be vaccinated or undergo weekly testing.
The new suit, filed in U.S. District Court in eastern Missouri, claims that the rule issued last week by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services “threatens with job loss millions of health care workers who risked their lives in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic to care for strangers and friends in their communities.”
The 10 states also argue that the rule “threatens to exacerbate an alarming shortage of health care workers, particularly in rural communities, that has already reached a boiling point.” They say any further losses will endanger patients, causing “devastating adverse effects on health care services.”
But the broader point echoes a separate lawsuit brought by many of the same Republican-led states against the private-employer mandate for those with 100 workers or more, contending that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have the authority to dictate such policy.
In announcing the rule, the administration set a deadline of January for all 17 million health care workers to be fully vaccinated at health care facilities that receive government funding under Medicare or Medicaid. Employees of hospitals and nursing homes, along with other medical sites, would not have the option of testing in lieu of immunization.
Federal officials said they could not comment on pending litigation, but the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in a statement that “there is no question that staff in any health care setting who remain unvaccinated pose both direct and indirect threats to patient safety and population health.”
Legal experts said the agency generally had the ability to establish rules governing the organizations that it pays to deliver care. “C.M.S. has very broad authority to regulate Medicare-certified providers,” said Katrina A. Pagonis, a lawyer specializing in regulatory issues for Hooper, Lundy & Bookman.
Erin J. McLaughlin, a health care lawyer for Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney, said the rule was “essentially a condition of participation” in federally funded programs. The government invoked the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution to pre-empt state and local laws when issuing the rule.
President Biden’s call for mandates followed months of pandemic outbreaks as the Delta variant threatened regions of the country, some with low vaccination rates but also others with vulnerable populations like those in nursing homes that had just begun to recover from the devastating death toll of 2020.
Many nursing homes had large numbers of workers who remained unvaccinated even after Mr. Biden announced the plan to mandate immunizations.
Many medical societies came out in favor of strict mandates for health care workers, arguing these employees have a special obligation to keep their patients and colleagues safe. And many large, multistate hospital systems and large nursing home companies began requiring staff vaccination, although others lobbied against blanket requirements.
The 10 states — Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming — claim that the federal government has overreached its authority to dictate what happens in their states.
The administration said that about 40 percent of all hospitals already required vaccinations. About 73 percent of nursing home workers are now vaccinated, according to federal data.