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 to those who work more than 30 hours per week or face a penalty.
According to the office of Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., the Internal Revenue Service, which will be enforcing the Affordable Care Act, currently defines volunteer firefighters as "employees" despite the fact they typically work fulltime 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.
Photo by Art Limann
From left Safety Officer Justin Stocklask, Capt. Danial Holmes and Engineer Jeff Henderson, from the Moundsville Volunteer Fire Department, discuss the implications of the Affordable Care Act on their department.
"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 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."
In Moundsville, volunteer Fire Chief Danny Holmes admits he has not heard too much about what is expected or what effect the new law will have. Members of other departments have expressed similar lack of knowledge.
"I haven't heard much on it yet," Holmes said. "We're still dealing with the West Virginia workman's compensation issue. I really don't have much information. I don't really know what's going on with it so we're just going to have to deal with it if and when it comes."
In Ohio, Martins Ferry Volunteer Fire Chief Jack Regis said, "As of right now we're kind of in a holding pattern. We're not really sure how it will affect us. It's a hit and miss situation. We have over 50 volunteer members, but how do you count the hours? Nobody keeps track of that and when do you start counting. There are so many questions. It's crazy.
"We know they are trying to get volunteer fire departments exempted. We're just waiting to see. We are in the middle. We are getting updated by state and federal firefighters associations on what's going on but we're just keeping our fingers crossed they exempt us."