The federal government has a financial interest in your vaccination status

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Jan. 13 that the federal government cannot constitutionally impose vaccination mandates on large employers through the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

This means that Uncle Sam, even for occupational safety reasons, cannot require private sector employees (other than healthcare workers) to accept the most effective measure available to control the spread and the severity of the pandemic.

As if that weren’t enough, authorities are simultaneously subsidizing irresponsible pandemic behavior by paying the funeral and healthcare costs of anti-vaxxers who have been hospitalized or died from COVID-19.

Subsidizing bad behavior encourages bad behavior — at least, that’s what Republicans have been claiming for decades when it comes to welfare programs with no job search requirements. And the Supreme Court has long upheld the validity of attaching conditions to federal grants: If you want to receive Washington’s money, you must follow its rules to be eligible. So why not attach these strings to COVID-19 vaccination status? However, the exact opposite is happening.

On March 24, 2021, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced that it would cover funeral expenses for COVID-related deaths that occurred after January 20, 2020, to “help alleviate some of the financial stress and burden caused by the pandemic”. Under the heading of disaster relief, FEMA covers the cost of “funeral services and burial or cremation” up to a maximum of $9,000 per burial. The money is available for unvaccinated and vaccinated victims of COVID-19.

Recent data from the CDC shows that the risk of death is about 11 times greater in unvaccinated adults than in fully vaccinated adults, so the former benefit disproportionately from FEMA grants. Admittedly, it’s a stretch to suggest that funeral subsidies encourage risky behavior, but subsidizing health care for anti-vaxxers may be a different story.

Americans spend approximately $3.6 trillion on health care each year. According to the Urban Institute & Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center, about a third of that amount, or $1.2 trillion, was paid by the federal government in 2019 through Medicare, Medicaid, children’s health insurance and care. to veterans. An additional $234 billion was subsidized by the federal government through tax deductions for employer contributions to employee health plans.

Additionally, federal law gives at least a partial free ride to the uninsured. Under a 1986 law, known as EMTALA, a Medicare-participating hospital has an obligation to provide medical screening and stabilizing care to any patient who seeks help, regardless of or his ability to pay.

The hospital cost of caring for COVID patients is staggering. According to a study by Fair Health, an independent nonprofit that tracks national health care costs, the average tab for non-complex COVID-19 cases ranges from $98,336 to $111,213 across the five states. the most expensive, while the average for complex COVID cases in the top five ranges from $377,198 to $472,213.

These figures don’t even take into account the hidden cost of delaying the treatment of non-COVID-19 patients with severe acute and chronic illnesses who cannot walk through the door as hospitals are overcrowded with COVID patients.

The cost of COVID hospital care that could be avoided through vaccination is also monumental. A recent study found that almost 98% of patients hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 between August and December 2021 were completely unvaccinated, compared to only about 2% who were fully vaccinated.

The statistical message is clear: get fully vaccinated and the odds of staying out of hospital with COVID-19 are almost 50 to 1. I would take those odds at the roulette table any day. Yet 25% of Americans are still unvaccinated and 40% are less than fully vaccinated a year after the first vaccine became available.

So, should the government encourage vaccinations by denying federally subsidized hospital care to those who refuse it? Or should it at least allow hospitals to prioritize the patients they accept based on their vaccinations – a triage protocol that would kick in when there are shortages of beds, staff or equipment?

These questions raise difficult questions of medical ethics and would almost certainly involve changes to existing federal laws and regulations.

That may sound like a harsh judgment, but I for one am tired of taxpayers footing the bill for those who continue to wishful thinking or recklessly deny the dangers posed by this contagion. Specifically, I want to make sure that the unvaccinated have the strongest incentive to get vaccinated.

Perhaps the grim prospect of being denied hospital care in a life-or-death crisis would finally provide that incentive.

Elliott Epstein is a litigator at Andrucki & King in Lewiston. His Rearview Mirror column, which has appeared in the Sun Journal for 16 years, analyzes current events in a historical context. He is also the author of “Lucifer’s Child”, a book about the notorious murder of Angela Palmer in 1984. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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