Judge declines Florida request to block federal mandate for healthcare workers

A federal judge has denied Florida's request to block a CMS rule requiring vaccination for eligible staff at healthcare facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid programs, according to court documents.

In an 11-page order issued Nov. 20, U.S. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers wrote that the court found "no showing of irreparable injury" to support a preliminary injunction or temporary restraining order against the federal rule.

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a complaint Nov. 17 over the mandate in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Pensacola. The complaint sought to prevent the implementation of the CMS interim final rule, which is expected to cover more than 17 million workers in hospitals and other healthcare settings nationwide, including about 76,000 providers.

To comply with the regulation, healthcare facilities must establish a policy ensuring staff have received at least one vaccine dose before providing any treatment or other services by Dec. 6. Staff must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4, and healthcare facilities are required to develop plans and processes to provide religious and medical exemptions and accommodations as appropriate.

Florida, among other claims, argued that CMS overstepped its statutory authority with the rule, that the action is arbitrary and capricious, and that the rule is an unconstitutional condition on the state's receipt of federal funds, in violation of the Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution, according to court documents.

"I filed a challenge to end the CMS vaccine rule — to protect doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, as well as the stability of the entire healthcare industry," Ms. Moody said in a news release announcing the complaint.

But Ms. Rodgers, in her ruling, wrote that the court "finds no adequate showing that irreparable injury will occur" without a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction prior to Dec. 6.

"The affidavits (of state officials) in support of the motion include assertions of how the various agencies and institutions anticipate they may be adversely impacted by the mandate. In particular, the affidavits express opinions of agency heads who 'estimate' that they 'may' lose a certain percentage or a number of employees, or speculate as to the consequences they will suffer 'if widespread resignations were to occur.' However, such opinions, absent supporting factual evidence, remain speculative and may be disregarded as conclusory," she said.

Florida filed the lawsuit over the CMS mandate on the same day state lawmakers passed legislation restricting workplace vaccination mandates.

Other states have also challenged the CMS mandate. On Nov. 10, a coalition of 10 states sued the federal government to block the rule, and 12 additional states sued over the mandate on Nov. 15.

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