By Team

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – With Florida lawmakers expected next week to try to thwart vaccination mandates, a long-term care industry group raised concerns Friday about a conflict with a new federal rule that requires health-care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

LeadingAge Florida, which represents nursing homes and other types of senior facilities and communities, called on lawmakers to include an exemption for healthcare providers in legislation that likely will pass during a special session that starts Monday.

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The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services last week issued a rule requiring workers at healthcare facilities that take part in the Medicare and Medicaid programs to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, issued a statement Friday that said healthcare providers could face financial penalties and potential termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs if they don’t comply with the federal rule.

“Next week during a special session Florida’s lawmakers are poised to pass legislation that would restrict vaccine mandates for employers, making it impossible for providers to be in compliance with both state and federal guidance unless a health care exemption is put in place,” Bahmer said in the statement.

“Nursing homes must comply with the federal rule because the federal law trumps state law. The loss of Medicaid and Medicare funding would be devastating to providers and could ultimately displace Florida’s most frail elders.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis called the special legislative session to target vaccination and mask mandates.

Identical bills (HB 1-B and SB 2-B) in the House and Senate would prevent employers from requiring vaccinations unless they offer ways that workers could opt-out.

For example, workers could avoid the requirements if they provide medical reasons, religious reasons or can demonstrate “COVID-19 immunity,” according to the bill.

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Also, they could be exempt if they agree to regular COVID-19 testing or agree to wear personal protective equipment.

But those potential reasons are broader than exemptions included in the federal rule requiring vaccinations for healthcare workers.

The federal rule includes exemptions for medical and religious reasons under laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act.

The information posted in the Federal Register makes clear that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services intended exemptions from vaccination requirements to be narrow.

“Requests for exemptions based on an applicable federal law must be documented and evaluated in accordance with applicable federal law and each facility’s policies and procedures,” the federal information said. “As is relevant here, this (rule) preempts the applicability of any state or local law providing for exemptions to the extent such law provides broader exemptions than provided for by federal law and are inconsistent with this (rule).”

Ten states filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court in Missouri challenging the rule.

DeSantis said recently that Florida also would challenge the rule, but state officials have not announced the filing of a case.

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