Firefighters who volunteer may not count in health law

Volunteer emergency responders will not be counted as full-time employees for the purpose of determining whether a fire department must purchase a health plan under the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D.-Colo., announced Friday.

Starting in 2015, the Affordable Care Act requires fire departments and most businesses with 50 or more full-time employees to purchase health care insurance coverage for their full-time work force.

Employees who work 30 or more hours per week are considered full time under the act.

The U.S. Treasury Department said that it will propose regulations in conjunction with the Internal Revenue Service to clarify how volunteer firefighters and first responders are defined in the new health care law, Bennet said in a news release.

The proposed regulations will make it clear that volunteer emergency service workers are not required to be counted as full-time employees for purposes of employer-sponsored health care coverage, he said.

“Volunteer firefighters are extremely valuable members of Colorado communities, especially in rural areas where volunteers are the only emergency service personnel available. This common-sense clarification will ensure that our volunteer agencies are treated fairly by the health care law,” Bennet said.

Without this clarification, fire departments and other emergency response units that rely heavily on volunteers could have been forced to eliminate emergency responders or reduce training and emergency response hours, since the cost of complying with the employer requirements in the health care law would have been nearly impossible.

Colorado is home to more than 300 volunteer fire departments, Bennet said.

Last month, Bennet said he co-sponsored the Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, which amends the Affordable Care Act to make it clear that volunteer emergency service workers are not required to be counted as full-time employees.

The bipartisan bill was introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), Angus King (I-Me.), Susan Collins (R-Me.), and Mark Begich (D-Ak.), Bennet said.

It has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, and Congressional Fire Services Institute, he said.


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