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News: Legislative Updates

Hospitals, Medical Groups Oppose Proposed Flu Shot Exemption Bill

Monday, July 13, 2015  
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July 9, Wisconsin Health News


Hospitals and other medical groups oppose a bill being circulated among lawmakers that would prohibit employers from requiring their workers to get flu shots. 


The legislation, proposed by Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, and Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere, would allow a personal exemption for employees not to receive the vaccination, beyond those exemptions already offered under the law for religious beliefs and medical reasons. 


"It is a matter of personal freedom for an individual to make their own personal healthcare decisions," the two lawmakers wrote in a memo asking other lawmakers to sponsor the proposed bill. "Employees are essentially being medicated without consent due to the high pressure of losing one's job."


But hospitals and medical groups have asked lawmakers to oppose the legislation. From a patient safety perspective, hospitals and healthcare facilities need to require that their employees receive flu vaccinations, they wrote to lawmakers. 


"We respect and care about the well-being of our employees and patients," the Wisconsin Medical Society along with 25 other hospitals and healthcare organizations wrote in a memo to lawmakers. "Vaccination policies are the most effective way to protect both."


According to a memo from the Wisconsin Hospital Association, not controlling the spread of flu increases healthcare spending and results in less employee productivity. 


 "The legislature should not be interfering with important human resource policy decisions of employers that are based on clinical experiences and proven standards of quality patient care," WHA Chief Quality Officer Kelly Court and Senior Vice President of Government Relations Kyle O'Brien wrote to lawmakers. 


Thiesdfeldt and Lasee noted in their memo that flu immunizations have been 50 to 60 percent effective historically and that last year's rate was even less successful. The lawmakers wrote that some hospitals, including UW Health and Meriter-Unity Point, already have such exemptions, and the proposed legislation "will now help level the playing field for all workers around the state."


Meriter-Unity Point has an exemption for its employees because of federal law prohibiting discrimination based on an employee's beliefs, said spokeswoman Leah Huibregtse in an email to Wisconsin Health News.


Courts have interpreted that to include both ethical and moral objections, and the hospital decided in 2013 to review employee exemption requests on a case by case basis, she said. About 1 percent of employees receive an exemption, she noted. 


UW Health has the exemption because of anti-discrimination laws as well, said spokeswoman Toni Morrisey.  "UW Health strongly believes that all employees should receive annual flu vaccinations and seeks to vaccinate every employee," Morrisey said in an email to Wisconsin Health News. "Last year, more than 92 percent of UW Health employees received the vaccine."


 The bill was introduced last session but failed to pass. 

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