House bill to exempt volunteer fire departments from Obamacare rule

Depending on an upcoming IRS ruling, the law could saddle volunteer fire departments with "unbearable financial burdens"

The Standard-Speaker

WASHINGTON — Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) introduced legislation that would exempt volunteer firefighters and emergency responders from the Employer Mandate Provision of the Affordable Care Act.

Barletta on Tuesday said the legislation would address part of the federal law that would saddle volunteer fire departments and municipalities with "unbearable financial burdens" and threaten public safety.

Since the IRS views volunteer firefighters as employees, fire companies and municipalities would be forced to provide health insurance or pay a fine, the congressman said.


Under the Employer Mandate Provision, employers with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance or pay penalties.

Barletta is concerned that the provision could create severe financial problems for volunteer firefighters and emergency responders — particularly those from Pennsylvania, where 97 percent of stations count exclusively or mostly on volunteers.

"This is just another example of how Obamacare was not well thought out," Barletta said in a statement. "I would rather tear down the whole thing and start over again with a fresh health care approach, but the president has made it clear that he won't allow that happen. So, we're left to try and pave over the potholes, and this is a big one — possibly affecting fire stations nationwide."

According to the congressman, fire companies could exceed the 50-employee threshold based on their size, being part of a larger combined force under different chiefs or by being part of a municipality that has 50 or more public employees in total.

The National Volunteer Fire Council and International Association of Fire Chiefs supports the legislation, Barletta said.

Barletta asked the IRS to clarify his concerns, but said he has not received a response as of Tuesday.

The congressman questioned the IRS classification of firefighters and potential adverse impacts of Obamacare last week.

The tax agency generally treats firefighters as employees for federal tax purposes. Barletta wants to know how the IRS would count "working" hours of volunteer firefighters when a 30-hour work week would trigger Obamacare penalties.

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