Senate seeks review of US employer immunization rules

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By Sreenivasa Rao Dasari, for CNN • Updated 30th October 2017

(CNN) — A group of 19 senators led by Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block a ruling by a federal appeals court that allows companies to avoid provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring them to offer employees vaccines.

In the lawsuit, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce argues that the “Biden Rule” is unconstitutional because it violates employers’ religious freedom rights. It’s named after a vice president — Joe Biden — who has been vocal about the need for vaccination.

As a congressmen in the 1980s, Biden unsuccessfully proposed rules that would have allowed vaccinations for children in federally funded Head Start programs.

While not expressly religious, companies participating in the organization say that the legislation passed in 2012 violates their First Amendment rights because it invades their freedom of religion and doesn’t advance an important social good.

The current version of the rules calls for larger employers to provide certain vaccines to children under the age of 4. Smaller employers are exempt. Parents of children under this age are still required to get an exemption through their school.

Those rules were the basis of a suit against the Obama administration filed by the Christian Medical Association, another health care advocacy group. On May 4, a federal judge ruled in favor of the group. But on June 29, an appeals court said in a 7-2 decision that the policy violated employers’ religious freedom rights and refused to lift the freeze.

“We believe that there’s a strong likelihood that the Supreme Court will agree that religious liberty protects the free exercise of vaccine policy,” Nellie Borrero, senior counsel at the Christian Medical Association, said.

Borrero said that she was hopeful about the possibility of overturning the ruling at the Supreme Court.

In its petition for Supreme Court review filed this month, the 19 lawmakers led by Blumenthal say that the rules have not only imposed an unjust burden on employers’ religious rights, but they have also created uncertainty for the growing number of businesses engaged in the voluntary delivery of vaccines to workers.

“The thousands of employers who employ, volunteer or rely on the contributions of employees who obtain vaccination coverage without interruption, contribute to the economic stability and vibrancy of the American workplace,” the senators wrote.

They are asking the Supreme Court to decide whether the benefits of allowing the exemption outweigh the expense and worry that employers must go through.

The health care initiative at the center of the disagreement, called the H.R. 2, has been “tenuous” to start with, said Dr. Tracy Lee, managing director of the Panmunjeom Line Agency in South Korea. The Obama-era policy was set up to ensure that women receive the full range of benefits that are available to men, she said.

She said that the men who get vaccinations and the women who get those vaccines represent another group that is losing out economically.

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