Tallahassee, FL -Calling the Biden administration’s actions “reckless,” Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody has filed a lawsuit challenging a federal requirement that workers at hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare providers be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Moody, in filings Wednesday in federal court in Pensacola, asked a judge to issue an injunction or temporary restraining order that would block the requirement before Dec. 6. Under federal regulation, healthcare workers are required to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by that day.
The lawsuit came after Florida also challenged other vaccination mandates issued by the Biden administration --- and was filed the same day that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law designed to block such mandates.
The healthcare regulation applies to workers at hospitals, nursing homes, and other providers that participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Lawyers in Moody’s office wrote that the vaccination requirement would exacerbate staffing problems in the healthcare industry.
“For a myriad of reasons, many health care workers in Florida will refuse the vaccine and be forced into unemployment, triggering a cascade of harmful effects across the state,” one of the court documents said. “Health care staffing rates will plummet, especially in rural areas. Florida will struggle to care for its disabled; its veterans will find it harder to obtain admission to nursing homes; prisoners will face delays in obtaining emergency medical services; the mentally incompetent will spend more time in jail as treatment facilities work through the backlog, and the sick and vulnerable will receive inferior care.”
But in announcing the regulation on Nov. 4, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said it would protect healthcare workers and patients as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
“Ensuring patient safety and protection from COVID-19 has been the focus of our efforts in combating the pandemic and the constantly evolving challenges we’re seeing,” Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, administrator of the federal agency, said in a prepared statement at the time “Today’s action addresses the risk of unvaccinated health care staff to patient safety and provides stability and uniformity across the nation’s health care system to strengthen the health of people and the providers who care for them.”
The lawsuit is at least the second challenge launched by states to the healthcare vaccination requirement. Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and New Hampshire joined together on Nov. 10 to file a lawsuit in federal court in Missouri. That case remains pending.
Under the requirement, millions of healthcare workers would need to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. It includes limited exemptions for medical and religious reasons.
Moody’s lawsuit alleges, in part, that the federal agency known as CMS overstepped its legal authority in issuing the requirement and did not follow proper procedures, such as consulting with states and providing notice. Also, it contends that the requirement is “arbitrary and capricious.” Much of the lawsuit is based on alleged violations of the federal Administrative Procedure Act.
“To start, CMS lacks the power to issue an industry-wide vaccination mandate,” the lawsuit said. “The statutes it relies on, do not provide it such sweeping authority. In fact, CMS is forbidden from exerting this level of control over the health care industry.”
While the requirement would apply to hundreds of Florida hospitals, private nursing homes, and other healthcare providers that rely on Medicare and Medicaid money, the lawsuit said it also could affect state-run facilities such as veterans’ nursing homes.
“Resulting staff shortages pose two problems for Florida. First, facilities would be forced to turn to private contractors to fill staffing gaps at a much higher cost,” one of the court documents said. “Second, if facilities were unable to curb the staffing shortage, they would be unable to provide the same level of care. Florida’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs, for instance, may need to reduce occupancy at its facilities, forcing veterans onto a waiting list for critical services.”
Florida also has filed lawsuits challenging Biden administration vaccination requirements for employees of federal contractors and employees of businesses with 100 or more workers. The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday that the requirement for businesses with 100 or more workers is on hold while legal challenges play out.
During a special legislative session, state lawmakers on Wednesday approved providing $5 million that Moody’s office could use, at least in part, to fight federal vaccination mandates. Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday signed a bill (HB 1B) that includes the money.
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