Workers who are charged with verifying that health care facilities are complying with the Biden administration’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate don’t have to be vaccinated themselves, the government has said.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which imposed the mandate, said in January memorandum that workers who have not received a vaccine “should not participate” in surveys of the health care facilities. The surveys include checking whether the facilities are obeying the mandate.
But the agency also said that organizations that accredit the surveyors, and state agencies, were responsible for the vaccination status of surveyors.
“Therefore, certified providers and suppliers are not permitted to ask surveyors for proof of their vaccination status as a precondition for entry,” the administration said.
In a new memo dated June 16, CMS made clear that surveyors do not have to be vaccinated as it rescinded the earlier memo.
“The federal government has explained that the guidance does not include any possibility of penalties for noncompliance, and further prohibits facilities from inquiring about surveyor vaccination status. We understand that there is nonetheless some ongoing confusion about this guidance, which we expect this recission will resolve,” Karen Tritz and David Wright, two CMS officials, wrote.
“We commend all the entities who have established COVID-19 vaccination programs for their surveyors, and we continue to encourage vaccination of surveyors performing federal oversight surveys,” they added.
CMS, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, imposed the mandate in 2021 at the direction of President Joe Biden.
The Supreme Court ruled in January that the mandate does not violate the Constitution, at the same time justices struck down a mandate for private businesses.
The CMS mandate affects all health care facilities that get Medicare or Medicaid funding. It requires that the facilities ensure their workers are vaccinated, with limited exceptions.
Facilities that don’t comply face fines, denial of payments, and termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Surveyors were ordered to check compliance while performing standard certification and accreditation visits.
As of mid-June, 95 percent of the facilities surveyed were found to be in “substantial compliance” with the mandate, CMS said in a statement.
In another recent memo, CMS rolled back how often surveyors verify compliance.
Survey agencies will now only check for compliance “during initial and recertification surveys and in response to specific complaint allegations that allege non-compliance with the staff vaccination requirement,” the memo, also from Tritz and Wright. states.
Surveyors “are no longer expected to perform these reviews on every survey,” they added. “This reduction in survey frequency is in keeping with the normal process for oversight of any Medicare requirement, and is supported by the high rates of compliance in initial surveys.”