BlueCross sent a memo to its employees on Thursday informing that all employees would be required to be vaccinated. The company had said earlier that the vaccine requirement would only apply to those "whose job roles involve in-person contact with BlueCross members, business partners and community members, as well as all vice-presidents and above."
The new requirement will affect 1,800 employees. The first deadline is Dec. 8 for most employees, and Feb. 1 for the rest.
The memo said:
"As a mission-driven health plan, our values are a driving force behind the decisions we make - from the kinds of coverage we offer to the way we listen and respond to employees.
"We've demonstrated those values in our approach to educating employees about the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines as they became available. Since March, we've published dozens of articles and videos, and hosted open Q&A sessions with our medical experts - all with the goal of sharing trustworthy information and alleviating concerns. We also offered a $200 incentive, which we'll be reinstating soon.
"Three months ago, we made the difficult decision to require vaccination for around 900 employees in leadership positions and roles that require in-person contact with members, including our state's most vulnerable, and with people outside the company. We still believe this was the right call to balance our commitments to employees, members and communities alike.
"Now, as a federal contractor, we will be required to comply with President Biden's executive order to ensure our employees are vaccinated against COVID-19. As you may know, we serve the Federal Employee Program as well as Medicare and Medicaid. - and those lines of business account for half our annual income.
"So, we will require COVID-19 vaccination for all BlueCross employees moving forward.
"We are respectful of the state of Tennessee's authority on vaccine requirements and appreciate they have allowed exceptions for federal contracts like BlueCross. We've notified the state comptroller's office of our intent to comply with the federal rules.
"In order to minimize service disruptions, we will be implementing this all-employee requirement in two groups. The majority will be required to show proof of vaccination by Dec. 8, and the second group will be required by Feb. 1, 2022.
"We are working with the Human Resources team to plan for direct communication with these groups - approximately 1,800 employees - and their managers ahead of each deadline. Fortunately all three COVID-19 vaccines are widely available at retailers across the state. And we expect to host additional on-site vaccine clinics to assist employees who choose to get vaccinated.
"Our 'Drive to 75' campaign over the past year has helped put us in a strong position here, with 72% of our workforce already vaccinated.
"We respect the strong beliefs many employees hold around this issue, and we'll continue to offer education and support throughout the difficult transition. One step in that direction is to reinstate our $200 incentive for submitting proof of vaccination. It will be available starting Nov. 10 for any vaccination received after the original incentive deadline.
"We will once again allow employees to request medical and religious accommodations, but the federal guidance does not allow a testing opt out.
"And as a reminder, many employees who requested accommodations from our first vaccine requirement reached the end of their accommodation period at the end of business yesterday, Nov. 3. Unfortunately 22 team members have left their positions with BlueCross."
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is giving employers with more than 100 employees a Jan. 4 deadline to comply with President Biden's COVID-19 vaccine mandate and threatening thousands of dollars in fines for defiant businesses, according to a fact sheet released by the White House Thursday.
The OSHA rule is expected to be immediately challenged in court by Republican states and some business groups.
Separate from OSHA, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is issuing a rule to require health care workers in facilities participating in Medicare and Medicaid be fully vaccinated. The CMS rule will also go into effect Jan. 4 and will cover more than 17 million workers at approximately 76,000 health care facilities nationwide.
Unlike the OSHA rule, the CMS rule affecting health care workers does not allow for a testing alternative to vaccination. The CMS rule does allow for medical and religious exemptions.