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Missouri sues to block vaccine mandate for health care workers

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Attorney General Eric Schmitt led a coalition of nearly one dozen states Wednesday in a legal effort to block the federal COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers under the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) umbrella. 

The effort in partnership with the Nebraska attorney general is the first lawsuit to challenge the CMS mandate, according to the Attorney General’s Office. The lawsuit alleged the mandate violates the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

Schmitt has already sued to block the federal vaccination requirements for large companies and federal contractors and employees.

“Unfortunately, with this latest mandate from the Biden administration, last year’s health care heroes are turning into this year’s unemployed. 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,” Schmitt said in a statement. 

“My office has been, and will continue to be, a national leader in challenging the Biden administration’s illegal edicts, and this instance is our latest effort to push back on this unprecedented federal overreach,” Schmitt said. 

The Biden administration unveiled two heavily expected COVID-19 vaccination requirements earlier this month. One required employers with at least 100 workers to ensure they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly tests by Jan. 4. 

The CMS rule required all health care workers, clinical and non-clinical, under Medicare and Medicaid programs to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4. Exemptions would be permitted for people with a medical or religious excuse, a senior administration official had said. 

Both rules would cover about two-thirds of the workforce in the country, according to the White House. 

“Vaccination requirements are good for the economy. They not only increase vaccination rates but they help send people back to work — as many as 5 million American workers,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “They make our economy more resilient in the face of COVID and keep our businesses open.” 

However, vaccine mandates have received pushback from Republicans and interest groups representing hospitals and businesses who worry the requirements could be detrimental to an already depleted workforce. 

“There were people in the hospital that freely shared that if the vaccine mandate happened … they would not work here,” Dr. Randy Tobler, CEO of Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, said in Missouri’s lawsuit. “That’s just something they weren’t going to put in their body.” 

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A recent study from the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL) found long-term care facilities are facing the worst labor crisis and job losses of any other health care sector. Nationally, employment levels dropped by 14 percent since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Overall, Missouri ranks last in the nation in terms of long-term care personnel who have completely been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to CMS data. 

About 56.71 percent of workers are completely vaccinated in Missouri, compared to 74.37 percent in Illinois, 70.72 percent in Nebraska, 66.82 percent in Kansas, and 57.67 percent in Oklahoma. (Oklahoma ranked just above Missouri.) 

In comparison, Rhode Island has the highest vaccination rates among its long-term care facility with 97.42 percent vaccinated. 

Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming are also signed onto the lawsuit against President Joe Biden and administration officials. 

Schmitt is running for U.S. Senate in Missouri.