Yesterday, CMS released the interim final regulations requiring COVID-19 vaccination of eligible staff at health care facilities that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. These requirements will apply to approximately 76,000 providers and cover over 17 million health care workers across the country.

Facilities covered by this regulation must establish a policy ensuring all eligible staff have received the first dose of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine prior to providing any care, treatment, or other services by December 5, 2021All eligible staff must have received the necessary shots to be fully vaccinated – either two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one dose of Johnson & Johnson – by January 4, 2022.  

At this time, CMS is not allowing for daily or weekly testing of unvaccinated individuals as an alternative to vaccination.  The regulation provides for exemptions based on recognized disability, medical conditions or religious beliefs, observances, or practices.  With regard to recognized clinical contraindications to receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, facilities should refer to the CDC informational document, Summary Document for Interim Clinical Considerations for Use of COVID-19 Vaccines Currently Authorized in the United States, accessed at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/covid-19/downloads/….  CMS directs providers and suppliers to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination160 for information on evaluating and responding to requests related to religious beliefs, observances, or practices. While employers have the flexibility to establish their own processes and procedures, including forms, CMS points to The Safer Federal Workforce Task Force’s “request for a religious exception to the COVID-19 vaccination requirement” template as an example.

Facilities must develop a similar process or plan for permitting exemptions in alignment with federal law. CMS will ensure compliance with these requirements through established survey and enforcement processes.  If a provider or supplier does not meet the requirements, it will be cited by a surveyor as being non-compliant and have an opportunity to return to compliance before additional actions occur.

The requirements apply to: Ambulatory Surgical Centers, Hospices, Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, Hospitals, Long Term Care facilities, Psychiatric Residential Treatment Facilities, Intermediate Care Facilities for Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities, Home Health Agencies, Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facilities, Critical Access Hospitals, Clinics (rehabilitation agencies, and public health agencies as providers of outpatient physical therapy and speech-language pathology services), Community Mental Health Centers, Home Infusion Therapy suppliers, Rural Health Clinics/Federally Qualified Health Centers, and End-Stage Renal Disease Facilities.

NRHA will be reviewing the regulation and submitting comments on behalf of our members expressing concern about the workforce and access implications in rural areas.  Comments on the interim final regulation must be provided within 60 days of November 5th, 2021 to be considered. 

To view the interim final rule with comment period, visit: public-inspection.federalregister.gov/…

To view a list of frequently asked questions, visit: www.cms.gov/files/document/cms-omnibus-staff-vax-requirements-2021.docx

NRHA will be sharing a more detailed summary of the regulation shortly.  In meantime, feel free to contact our government affairs team at ccochran@ruralhealth.us. Thank you.