Bipartisan legislation would waive the requirement that volunteer departments provide the kind of comprehensive health coverage that full-time paid firefighters receive, Watchdog.org reported.
Though the U.S. Department of Labor has long held that volunteer fire crews are, in fact, volunteers, the IRS puts them under the Obamacare umbrella as employees.
Except for larger urban areas, most U.S. communities are served by fire and rescue squads staffed by part-time volunteers. Of the country’s 1.1 million professional firefighters, 753,000 are volunteers, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Virginia, for example, has 28,000 volunteer firefighters — far outnumbering their career counterparts. In Pennsylvania, 97 percent of jurisdictions rely mostly or entirely on volunteer crews.
“This is a bipartisan issue that could have serious impacts on staffing at fire departments across the United States,” William Metcalf, president and chairman of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, said of the IRS interpretation.
Democratic U.S. Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Joe Manchin of West Virginia teamed with Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania last week to introduce House and Senate bills exempting volunteer first responders from the Obamacare mandates.
The House measure – HR 3685 – has 75 co-sponsors so far, mainly Republicans.
Under the Affordable Care Act, employers with more than 50 full-time employees must provide health insurance to employees who work more than 30 hours per week. The IRS moved volunteer firefighters into this group.
“Make no mistake,” Barletta said. “This wrinkle we discovered in Obamacare would not provide health insurance to the uninsured. Rather, it will close down fire companies and do real damage to public safety.”