Earlier this month, the White House unveiled its action plan, “Path Out of the Pandemic,” specifically naming the home health industry. They plan to require most home health workers, along with other healthcare workers, to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.
How Many Home Health Workers Are Vaccinated?
In an August 23 press release, The National Association for Home Care & Hospice estimates a vaccination percentage ranging between 40% and 90%. The vaccination rate varies widely depending on the company and the profession of the caregiver.
Which Employees Must Vaccinate?
The White House announcement specifies home health agencies along with hospitals, dialysis facilities, and ambulatory surgical settings as examples of the healthcare providers that will be required to have all employees vaccinated. Those are just examples, though. The administration plans to make employee vaccination a requirement for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement. Therefore, almost any healthcare provider that takes Medicare or Medicaid will fall under this new requirement. The requirement will not just apply to nurses seeing patients. The White House intends for the requirement to cover office staff, volunteers (such as hospice volunteers), subcontractors (as home health agencies often arrange for certain therapies through other providers), nurses, and everyone else working for or under the home health agency.
Which Home Health Workers Will Be Allowed to Go Unvaccinated?
The healthcare worker section of the White House’s plan will be enforced through Medicare and Medicaid payment conditions, but that leaves a wide swath of home health and home care agencies in a voluntary vaccination status. Many agencies provide non-medical home care and/or private-duty nursing on a private-pay basis. While these agencies will usually be subject to state regulations, they are free from the authority of Medicare and Medicaid. The Path Out of the Pandemic plan will also use the authority of The Department of Labor / Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require large employers to vaccinate all employees. This will apply to companies with 100 employees or more. Therefore, private-pay home health agencies with fewer than 100 employees (which is most of them) will not be required to vaccinate under this plan. Consumers paying privately for home health and who prefer a vaccinated staff should ask their providers about their individual policies.
Should Home Health Agencies Wait for the Final Rule to Begin Compliance?
While the White House unveiled the Path Out of the Pandemic earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) simultaneously issued a press release about upcoming vaccination requirements. We anticipate CMS to publish an interim final rule in October. However, CMS is signaling that they expect Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers to begin compliance efforts immediately. CMS states, “CMS expects certified Medicare and Medicaid facilities to act in the best interest of patients and staff by complying with new COVID-19 vaccination requirements. Health care workers employed in these facilities who are not currently vaccinated are urged to begin the process immediately. Facilities are urged to use all available resources to support employee vaccinations, including employee education and clinics, as they work to meet new federal requirements.”