Red states lose at the U.S. Supreme Court on nursing home vaccine mandate

October 5, 2022 11:30 am

A view of the front portico of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. (Photo by Phil Roeder/Getty Images)

Iowa Writers 'Collaborative. Linking Iowa readers and writers.Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and several of her Republican colleagues lost a round to the Biden administration this week.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear their challenge to an administration rule requiring that workers at nursing homes and other health care facilities receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funds get the COVID vaccine.

The Biden administration announced the requirement last November, and it’s no small matter in states like Iowa with a large number of older people.

At the time, the administration cited the prevalence of the virus in health care settings and the risk faced by the older population. More than 158,000 nursing home residents have died of Covid since the pandemic began, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS.

The requirement didn’t get as much attention as the broader proposal to require vaccines or testing at large employers across the United States. However, the administration argued it was vital to protecting people.

In January, the Supreme Court rejected the employer plan. But it let stand the plan to require workers at facilities that received Medicare and Medicaid funds get vaccinated.

The state of Missouri challenged the rule and was joined by several other states mostly led by Republicans, including Iowa.

At the time, Reynolds said Iowans should be able to make their own health care decisions.

Meanwhile, the nursing home industry warned that the requirement would make it more difficult to retain staff.

In its 5-4 decision in January, the court said Congress gave the administration the right to impose conditions on recipients of Medicare and Medicaid funds that are in the interest of the health and safety of residents. And it added, “ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm.”

The objecting states got an injunction on the rule, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit sided with the Biden administration.

The vast majority of workers at nursing homes have received the shots by now.

In Iowa, 83% of staff, on average, have received the primary series, while in Illinois about 88% of staff got the jab, according to CMS.

That’s just the average, though.

At some facilities, the numbers are lower. At a couple nursing homes in the Quad-Cities, roughly 72% of workers had gotten the shots. You can check out individual nursing homes here.

With the fall months upon us, the Biden administration says it is working to get people at risk updated on their COVID shots.

The federal government reported that through mid-September, 65% of nursing home residents in Iowa and 61.5% of residents in Illinois were up to date on their shots. That compares with more than 92% in Iowa and 89% in Illinois who received the initial shots.

This column was originally published by Ed Tibbetts’ Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. It is republished here through the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.

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Ed Tibbetts
Ed Tibbetts

Ed Tibbetts, of Davenport, has covered politics, government and trends for more than three decades in the Quad-Cities. A former reporter and editorial page editor for the Quad-City Times, he now is a freelance journalist who publishes the Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. He is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.