On Wednesday afternoon, President Biden announced U.S. nursing home employees must be vaccinated against COVID-19. Otherwise, these facilities risk losing their Medicaid and Medicare funding. Nursing homes have been greatly impacted by the pandemic, accounting for about 30% of COVID-19 deaths, and this mandate is intended to protect elderly residents and reduce their risk of contracting the virus.
Nursing home providers quickly criticized this new requirement, especially since it does not apply to other areas of the healthcare industry. Many operators expressed concern that it will exacerbate the existing workforce shortage for nursing facilities. However, some providers have already enacted self-imposed vaccination mandates for their staff in spite of worker shortage concerns. Thus far, overall nursing home staff vaccination rates have lingered around 60% with rates at the state level ranging from 88% to 44%.
As the Delta variant continues to progress across the U.S., nursing homes have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases. In fact, many of the recent outbreaks have been in facilities in areas with the lowest employee vaccination rates. Although over 82% of nursing home residents are currently vaccinated, many of them are still at risk due to their age, health, and the vaccination rates in their community and among the staff.
Medicaid covers about 60% of nursing home care and Medicare pays for about 20%, so this new rule carries a lot of weight. It applies to more than 15,000 skilled nursing facilities across the country, which impacts about 1.3 million workers who serve about 1.6 million nursing home residents.
The requirement is slated to go into effect in September, and CMS will provide more detailed guidance, including how regulators are expected to enforce the mandate, at a later time. CMS expects nursing home operators to provide the necessary resources and education to their staff to support these efforts.
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