U.S. House approves Barletta bill protecting volunteer firefighters from ACA

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The United States House unanimously approves bill H.R. 3979 authored by 11th District Rep. Lou Barletta that protects volunteer firefighters and emergency responders from the unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act(ACA).  The measure ensures that emergency services volunteers are not counted as full-time employees under the Employer Mandate of the ACA. If enforced the Employer Mandate would impose crippling health care costs which could force many volunteer companies to shutdown.  The final vote was 410 – 0.  A similar measure is pending in the U. S. Senate.

“This is a tremendous victory for anyone who lives and works in an area that depends on volunteer firefighters for their safety, which means the huge majority of Americans,’ Barletta said. “Firehouses and municipalities across the country need assurance that they wouldn’t have to pay costly fines or shut their doors. This bill provides them with that certainty.”

The IRS, under pressure from lawmakers, recently indicated that it will not count hours of volunteer firefighters and emergency responders when determining an employer’s full-time employees in compliance with the ACA.  Barletta, however, continued to pursue passage of H.R. 3979 as insurance against future changes from the IRS.

In Pennsylvania 97% of all fire companies depend entirely or mostly on volunteers. Under the Employer Mandate Provision of the ACA, employers with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance or pay penalties.  If volunteers were ever considered employees, fire companies could exceed the 50 employee threshold in several different ways: a volunteer department by itself based on size; by being part of a combined, paid-volunteer firefighter department; or by being part of a municipality that has 50 or more public employees in total.