On 5 November 2021, the Secretary of Health and Human Services introduced a new interim condition of participation in the federal Medicare and Medicaid programs requiring participating facilities to ensure that their staff were vaccinated against COVID-19 unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.
The interim rule was then challenged by two groups of States before the U. S. District Courts for the Western District of Louisiana and the Eastern District of Missouri, which found the rule defective and issued preliminary injunctions against its enforcement. With a judgment of 13 January 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States decided to stay both preliminary injunctions. Contrary to what it held against OSHA in its twin judgment on the vaccine mandate for large employers, the Court held that the Secretary of Health and Human Services did have the power to issue the vaccine mandate for healthcare workers because – as the available data plainly showed – unvaccinated staff pose a serious threat to the health and safety of Medicaid and Medicare patients, most of whom are elderly, disabled or otherwise in poor health.
To support its stance, the Court stressed that the Congress had expressly authorized the Secretary to impose on the receipt of Medicare and Medicaid funds all such conditions that he deemed to be necessary in the interest of the health and safety of patients. The measure complained of in the case at hand was considered to fall into the latter category. Justices Thomas and Alito filed dissenting opinions that were joined by Justices Gorsuch and Barrett.