Nebraska, Iowa join lawsuit fighting vaccine policy tied to Medicare, Medicaid funding

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Published: Nov. 10, 2021 at 2:03 PM CST
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(WOWT) - Nebraska and Iowa on Wednesday joined eight other states in filing a lawsuit to fight federal vaccine policies for any medical facility receiving Medicare and Medicaid funding.

The lawsuit, filed in Missouri like the two similar lawsuits filed in recent days, argues the Biden administration’s rule “imposes an unprecedented federal vaccine mandate on nearly every full-time employee, part-time employee, volunteer, and contractor working at a wide range of healthcare facilities receiving Medicaid or Medicaid funding.”

The states say the requirements threaten the jobs of “millions of healthcare workers who risked their lives in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic to care for strangers and friends in their communities.”

“In preparing this lawsuit, we have talked to many healthcare facilities throughout Nebraska, especially in rural communities, and we have heard the same message over and over again: this mandate will force healthcare providers to fire critical employees, including operations personnel who don’t provide patient care, and that will have a devastating impact on many healthcare facilities in greater Nebraska,” state Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a statement announcing Wednesday’s filing.

However, heads of multiple local healthcare agencies said months ago that the majority of their staffs had already been vaccinated. In a joint announcement about COVID-19 vaccine requirements for their health systems, officials there reported at least 80% had already been vaccinated against COVID-19.

On Nov. 1, Bryan Health confirmed that it had achieved a 95% vaccination rate by its deadline and retained 297 employees (or 5% of its staff) by way of approved exemptions. Conversely, five employees chose to resign and five others were terminated for non-compliance ahead of the health system’s internal deadline.

A spokesman for Nebraska Medicine said Wednesday 97% of its employees had been vaccinated, with 304 employees (or 3%) receiving exemptions. The spokesman said 30 employees — 18 of whom were full time — opted not to follow the policy.

CHI Health also said Wednesday that 92% of its 12,000 employees are fully vaccinated, exempted, or on their way to being fully vaccinated; and that those who are choosing not to comply with the company’s mandate and refusing the option to wear masks and test regularly will be allowed to continue working — masked and tested — until their positions can be filled.

Among other arguments, the lawsuit cites hardships due to potential workforce shortages that the mandate could trigger, but also acknowledges that the nation’s healthcare industry “has been experiencing severe workforce shortages” since “long before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming are also signed on to the lawsuit.

It’s the third such lawsuit filed in Missouri in recent days that most in the coalition — Arizona was not attached to the initial filing of the latest lawsuit — have filed to fight the federal vaccination policies. On Friday, 11 states signed onto a lawsuit fighting OSHA’s vaccine policy for businesses with 100 employees or more.

Governors for both Nebraska and Iowa have repeatedly encouraged COVID-19 vaccinations and are themselves vaccinated, but have consistently stated their opposition to any COVID-19 vaccination requirements. On Oct. 29, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts also issued an executive order barring state agencies from complying with the mandate for federal contractors as a Missouri-led 10-state coalition including Nebraska, Iowa, Alaska, Arkansas, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming filed a lawsuit fighting that requirement as well.

Read the lawsuit filed in Missouri

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