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Federal court says CMS rule overrides Montana vaccine law

COVID vaccine
Posted at 4:20 PM, Mar 18, 2022

HELENA — A federal judge has placed a temporary block on part of Montana’s "vaccine anti-discrimination law," preventing state action against medical facilities that are required to have employees vaccinated for COVID-19 under a federal rule.

On Friday, Montana U.S. District Court Judge Donald W. Molloy placed a limited preliminary injunction on a portion of House Bill 702 due to it conflicting with a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) interim rule that requires staff of CMS certified facilities — such as hospitals, long-term care facilities and rehabilitation centers — to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The CMS rule was challenged, although ultimately upheld by the United States Supreme Court in January. The high court noted medical facilities have historically required vaccination for a number of diseases, such as influenza and hepatitis B.

Last year, Gov. Greg Gianforte signed HB 702 into law which prevents employers in Montana from discriminating against an individual due to their vaccination status, effectively preventing employers from requiring any kind of vaccine for employment.

The Montana Medical Association challenged the law in September said it “jeopardizes physicians’ ability to maintain best practices now in place for protecting patients and staff from vaccine-preventable diseases.” They also allege the law is unconstitutional.

Molloy in his ruling stated Montana medical facilities were stuck between violating state law and federal law, with both leaving facilities and staff susceptible to legal consequences. By not following the CMS rule, facilities could have lost a significant portion of their funding.

The limited preliminary injunction will remain in place so long as the interim CMS rule remains in effect.

Read the full ruling below.