To combat the COVID-19 delta variant’s deadly toll in communities nationwide, President Joe Biden on Sept. 9 announced a COVID-19 action plan that mandates vaccination, with no testing option, for Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospitals and other health care settings.
According to the plan, the new requirement “will apply to approximately 50,000 providers and cover a majority of health care workers across the country.” The announcement did not specify whether dental offices will be included in this requirement.
Biden’s “Path out of the Pandemic” plan also will require employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are either fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or tested for the virus at least once weekly with proof of a negative test result prior to entering and working in their place of employment.
And by executive order, all federal workers and contractors in business with the federal government must be fully vaccinated to work. Biden’s plan also prioritizes booster-shot accessibility, increased testing capacity and masking requirements, affordability of at-home test kits and other pandemic mitigation measures.
Recent California state public health orders already mandate COVID-19 vaccination for most of the state’s health care workers. Dentists and dental professionals have the option to be tested weekly, except in cities or counties with mandatory vaccination orders ― currently San Francisco and Los Angeles counties.
But under Biden’s plan, workers in most health care facilities in the U.S. that receive Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement will soon be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to work in those facilities, including nursing homes, hospitals and in-home care. Those who were previously allowed to submit to regular testing will no longer have that option.
CDA is looking further into the requirement, including whether it includes dental offices, and will share more information with members as it becomes available.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is developing a final rule to be issued with a comment period in October but urges unvaccinated workers in all of its facilities to begin the compliance process “immediately.”
The Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration will develop a rule requiring full COVID-19 vaccination or weekly proof of a negative test for all employers with 100 or more workers to be implemented through an emergency temporary standard. These employers must provide paid time off for their workers to get vaccinated and recover from potential post-vaccination effects. However, as with the California public health orders, the plan does not specify whether employers must pay for costs associated with the weekly testing.
To increase testing capacity and affordability, as of last week, major retailers, including Amazon, should be selling rapid COVID-19 tests at cost ― meaning at a savings of up to 35% for consumers. Whether those cost savings will be available to providers buying tests in bulk is unknown at this time.
Medicaid is directed by the plan to cover the cost of at-home COVID-19 tests for its beneficiaries, and the Biden administration will subsidize the cost of rapid at-home tests for 1,400 community health centers and many food banks.
CDA will communicate more details about how the new mandates may affect California dental practices as final rules are developed.