HELENE, Mont. (AP) — Montana cannot enforce a state law that prevents most health care facilities from mandating vaccines while there is an interim federal rule requiring millions of health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, a federal judge ruled on Friday.
US District Judge Donald Molloy of Missoula said his injunction applies only while the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid’s interim rule is in effect because the federal rule takes precedence over state law.
The rule, upheld by the US Supreme Court in January, requires COVID-19 vaccinations or religious or medical exemptions for employees of Medicare- and Medicaid-certified providers.
The federal rule and Molloy’s injunction apply only to COVID-19 vaccinations and not to healthcare facilities that are not regulated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.
After the US Supreme Court upheld the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid decision, many of Montana’s larger medical facilities said they were meeting their requirements.
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The Great Falls health system said 37 of its employees left their jobs rather than get vaccinated against COVID-19 or request exemptions, The Billings Gazette reported last month.
Other facilities said they were complying with federal regulations but declined to say how many employees were vaccinated versus how many exemptions.
“The order changes little from the status quo and is drastically limited from what the plaintiffs wanted,” Emilee Cantrell, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said Friday. “It is in effect only so long as the Biden administration’s Interim Final Rule is in effect, which Attorney General Knudsen will continue to challenge in federal court.”
The Montana Medical Association, which represents physicians statewide, said it was pleased with the court’s decision “to exonerate healthcare professionals, facilities and patients caught in the midst of a conflict between our federal and state governments.
“Today’s court decision ensures that health care providers and facilities in Montana can comply with federal regulation mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in most health care facilities and not face the potential loss of significant Medicare funds without violating the state.” violate the right,” the association said in a statement.
The Montana Legislature of 2021 passed a state-first law making it illegal to discriminate based on a person’s immunization status in the provision of services, access to public housing, or employment. It included an exemption for nursing homes and other long-term care facilities in the event the federal government threatened to remove Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement.
The Montana Medical Association and some medical providers and clinics filed a lawsuit in September 2021, arguing they should also be exempted from the new state law.
The state law — which applies to all immunizations — prevents medical providers from “complying with national standards for the care and treatment of patients, including adhering to and enforcing infectious disease prevention protocols,” the complaint said.
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