Volunteer fire companies across the country are breathing a sigh of relief, after learning over the weekend that they will be exempt from an Affordable Care Act mandate requiring them to provide health insurance to their members.
Though staffed with volunteers, many community fire companies have a lot of costs to cover.
“You’re looking at fuel costs, in the winter heating the building, building maintenance,” said Chad Livelsberger, chief of Wrightsville Fire and Rescue.
Under the act, companies with at least 50 employees must provide health insurance to those who work 30 hours or more per week. For tax purposes, the Internal Revenue Service considers volunteer firefighters employees.
“A lot of them struggle to pay just to operate and training and equipment and there’s no way they, we could afford to pay healthcare to our members,” said Chief Mark Simpson, of the Camp Hill Volunteer Fire Company.
Just last week, U.S. Representative Lou Barletta, R-11th District, introduced the “Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act” to exempt volunteer fire companies from the employer mandate.
“This wrinkle in the Affordable Care Act will not provide healthcare to the uninsured, it will only shutdown fire companies and cause a severe threat to public safety,” he said, as he introduced his bill on the House floor.
On Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced volunteer fire departments will be exempt from the requirement. It’s a move that Congressman Barletta and many volunteer fire chiefs say will keep companies from having to close or cut down on members.
In a statement, Mark J. Mazur, assistant secretary for tax policy at the U.S. Treasury, said that the department will release regulations for volunteer fire companies to follow regarding the policy shortly.
You can read the Treasury Department’s full statement here.