In a 227-203 vote, the House of Representatives has passed the Freedom for Health Care Workers Act, a bill that aims to end the vaccine mandate for employees at certain healthcare facilities. The vote marked the first pandemic-related bill approved by the Republican majority since they took control of the chamber.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), seeks to prevent the Health and Human Services Secretary from enforcing workplace regulations and standards, including the vaccine mandate, that were enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic at Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities. Over 10 million health workers across 76,000 facilities are subject to the vaccine requirements.
Health workers at Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities are required to receive at least their first dose of a primary series of coronavirus vaccinations before providing care, treatment or services. Failure to comply with the mandate could result in termination for the worker, or in some cases, termination from the Medicare and Medicaid programs if noncompliance occurs across an entire facility. There are some exceptions for religious and medical reasons.
Despite Democrats maintaining control of the Senate and the likelihood of President Biden vetoing the bill if it reaches his desk, the vote was largely a symbolic gesture of GOP opposition to the Biden administration's COVID-19 policies. The emergency standards were first issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 2021 and went into effect at the start of last year. The vaccine requirements received support from medical groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Nurses Association.
House Democrats quickly condemned the bill during the floor debate, with some calling it a "cruel attack on public health." However, Republican Rep. Larry Bucshon spoke in favor of the bill while supporting the idea of vaccinating health care workers.
The vaccine requirements, which were issued in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, will not be contingent on the pandemic remaining in effect. According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the vaccine requirement will expire in November 2024 unless the CMS takes additional action.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose a threat, the debate surrounding the vaccine mandate for health care workers remains a hot topic. Whether the Freedom for Health Care Workers Act will progress to become law remains to be seen, but it has sparked discussions and divided opinions across the nation.