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Montana hospitals say they’ll comply with federal vaccine mandate

A nurse prepares the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine during a Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal vaccination clinic at the KwaTaqNuk Resort in Polson, Montana, on March 30, 2021. (Tailyr Irvine/KHN)

HELENA – Montana hospitals said Friday they will “work to comply” with the Biden administration’s mandate that all healthcare facilities receiving federal funding must require their employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which oversees the main federal health-insurance programs, has said its interim rule issued Thursday supersedes any state laws against mandate, said MHA, which represents Montana hospitals.

A new Montana law, passed this spring by legislative Republicans, prohibits most private businesses from requiring their employees to be vaccinated. It is being challenged in state and federal court by two lawsuits, including one filed by physicians and other medical personnel.

The MHA said ignoring the CMS rule could lead to loss of federal funds under those programs, which serve hundreds of thousands of Montanans – most of them elderly, poor or disabled, MHA said.

“The loss of care not only would have a negative impact on the health of our affected neighbors, it would jeopardize the financial viability and continued operations of healthcare providers,” it said in a statement.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office has indicated it will file legal action to challenge the federal CMS rule.

The CMS rule says employees of hospitals and other medical facilities that accept Medicare and Medicaid funding must be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4. It allows exemptions for staff with “recognized medical conditions” or based on religious beliefs.

MHA said CMS rules are designed to “ensure a high standard of care and a safe health-care setting for both providing and receiving care.

“In order to protect patients, healthcare workers, and preserve access to healthcare services for our communities, Montana hospitals, and healthcare providers will work to comply with the federal requirement.”