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Louisiana AG Jeff Landry challenges federal COVID vaccine requirement for healthcare workers

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Attorney General Jeff Landry has signed onto yet another lawsuit challenging the Biden administration’s workplace COVID-19 vaccine mandates, this time taking aim at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ requirement that all employees of facilities participating in the federal entitlement programs be vaccinated by Dec. 6.

The CMS mandate would apply to 10 million healthcare workers across the country. The agency estimates that roughly 2.4 million are currently unvaccinated.

“Biden’s bureaucrats at CMS are threatening the jobs of millions of our healthcare heroes who risked their lives last year caring for our neighbors with COVID-19,” Landry said in a statement announcing the lawsuit, which was filed Monday. “The federal government will not impose medical tyranny on Louisiana's people without my best fight."

In court filings, Landry called the CMS mandate a “statutory shell game” that over-extends the agency and the Biden administration’s rule-making authority in what he calls an “unlawful attempt to federalize national vaccine policy.”

Landry is joined in the suit by the attorneys general of 11 other states, several of whom claim that the federal vaccine mandates infringe upon state laws that prohibit discrimination based on vaccination status.

The suit further claims that if enforced, the mandate would exacerbate healthcare worker shortages across the country.

“The Biden Administration enacted their latest unlawful overreach despite acknowledging that there are endemic staff shortages for almost all categories of employees at almost all kinds of healthcare providers and suppliers,” Landry said in a statement. “By disregarding not only the law, but also the shortages, Biden is jeopardizing the healthcare interests of countless Americans."

Biden administration officials have said the Department of Justice will vigorously defend the vaccine rules.

The largest healthcare systems in Louisiana already have vaccine mandates of their own. Some are facing lawsuits over those policies.

The Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady health system and Ochsner Health imposed vaccine mandates in August. Louisiana Children’s Medical Center followed suit in late September.

Ochsner Health — the state’s largest hospital system — reported last month that 86% of all its employees had gotten the shots. That vaccination rate climbs to 98% when limited to doctors and hospital leaders.

Late last month, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport issued a restraining order temporarily blocking the company from suspending or firing employees who refuse to get vaccinated pending a full hearing.

Ochsner Health CEO Warner Thomas said his organization would appeal the court’s decision to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

“This ruling is inconsistent with established Louisiana law as well as the decisions of courts across the country upholding COVID-19 vaccine mandates,” Thomas said in a statement after the decision. A separate state appeals court in southwest Louisiana threw out a request for a similar order.

Those rulings have no bearing on this latest federal case, which was filed in U.S. District Court court in Monroe.

This is the third lawsuit challenging federal vaccine requirements that Landry has joined in recent weeks. The Louisiana AG is also leading a suit challenging the vaccine requirement for all federal contractors.

Landry signed onto another suit led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and a collection of businesses that challenges the Occupational Safety and Health Administrations vaccine and testing requirements for businesses with more than 100 workers.

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in New Orleans was the first court in the nation to issue a ruling blocking the OSHA mandate from taking effect until a full hearing can be held — giving Landry and the other plaintiffs an early victory in the case.

Paul Braun was WRKF's Capitol Access reporter, from 2019 through 2023.