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Fire departments may get hurt under Obamacare

December 30, 2013
By ART LIMANN - Special to the Herald-Star , The Herald-Star

Volunteer firefighters in West Virginia, Ohio and across the country are facing serious financial insurance issues because of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

As it currently stands, volunteer fire departments and emergency medical squads will have to provide health insurance if they have more than 50 members who work more than 30 hours per week or face a penalty.

According to the office of Rep. David B. McKinley, R-Wheeling, the Internal Revenue Service, which will be enforcing the Affordable Care Act, currently defines volunteer firefighters as "employees" despite the fact they typically work full-time jobs in addition to their volunteer work. As a result, volunteer fire departments and municipalities could be subjected to the Obamacare employer mandate and forced to provide health insurance or face the penalties.

"In West Virginia, 95 percent of all fire departments are staffed by volunteers," McKinley said. "It is unfair to penalize these men and women who put their lives on the line with each and every call.

Small towns and rural areas across America rely on volunteer first responders to provide vital lifesaving services. Subjecting volunteer fire departments - many of which need to raise money to simply outfit their members with equipment and training - to this expensive mandate violates common sense."

On Dec. 10, McKinley co-sponsored the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, H.R. 3685, which would exempt volunteer firefighters and emergency medical providers from the employer mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

He noted, "For the sake of public safety and the future of volunteer fire departments across America, we need to take action and ensure volunteer emergency providers are exempt from this requirement."

In a letter to President Barack Obama he stated, "Forcing volunteer fire departments to comply with this rule will not extend health insurance to the uninsured, rather it will close firehouses and put communities at risk. Furthermore, this rule may force fire departments to eliminate volunteers in order to avoid being classified as a large employer."

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