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Fitzpatrick: Healthcare Laws Could Burn Volunteer Firefighters

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick has introduced legislation that will exempt volunteer firefighters and EMT from new healthcare requirements.

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. Photo by Kara Seymour.
Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick. Photo by Kara Seymour.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle in Washington, D.C., are looking to solve a potentially harmful impact of the Affordable Care Act's insurance requirements on volunteer fire departments.

Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick introduced on Wednesday new legislation that would clarify the ruling about the status of volunteer fire companies under the ACA and exempt volunteer fire fighters from the ACA’s employer mandate set to start January 1, 2015.

“I’m sure that the volunteer fire companies in Bucks and Montgomery County do not want to be in the middle of a political squabble,” he said during a conference call with reporters. “They simply want to know that this bill will not affect them.” 

Even though they are not paid for their life-saving efforts, volunteer firefighters are recorded as employees to the IRS by municipalities for tax and worker's compensation reasons, according to Plumsteadville fire Chief Charles Rumble, who was also on the conference call. 

According to the healthcare law, employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide health care to the employees or pay a tax. Rumble said that some individual fire departments may have less than 50 workers, but multiple departments may be pooled together for tax reasons. 

He also said that any volunteer carrying a pager is considered "on the clock," putting many of the firefighters well over the 30 hour threshold for full-time employment.

"This would put an enormous strain on volunteer fire companies," said Rumble. "I think this is an unintended consequence of enacting a bill that has not been completely read through before its passage."

Fitzpatrick's office forwarded a copy of a letter he sent in October to Daniel Werfel, acting director of the IRS, asking for clarification about the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on local volunteer fire departments. The congressman told reporters he has still not received a response, prompting him to move forward on the legislation.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey's office sent out a press release Wednesday afternoon stating that he had secured a commitment from John Andrew Koskinen, the nominee selected to take over operations at the IRS, that this issue would be addressed soon after his confirmation.

“Pennsylvania has a long and proud tradition of volunteer firefighters and I’m pleased that the likely next head of the IRS has committed to addressing this issue,” Senator Casey said in a statement. “Our volunteer firefighters make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf and I believe it’s critical that IRS quickly clear up this confusion over the Affordable Care Act.” 

Fitzpatrick said that time has run out for the IRS to make any clarifications and that his bill and a companion bill introduced Tuesday by Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and others will be the quickest route to relief.

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