Written by Wendy Kreitzman Thursday, 02 January 2014 00:00
The nation’s new Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has a provision that could put local fire departments—as well as local governments—at considerable financial risk. Fire-fighting departments with 50 or more members could be forced to provide health insurance for their volunteer firefighters or else pay substantial fines.
The health care law has specific insurance requirements for employers with 50 or more employees. While the U.S. Department of Labor terms these firefighters “volunteers,” the Internal Revenue Service classifies volunteer firefighters as employees.
Members of Congress are aware of this issue, though so far, no changes have been made at the federal level.
“Volunteer firefighters provide an invaluable service to our communities and save lives. We need to make sure policies aren’t put in place that would be detrimental to fire departments on Long Island and across the nation,” said Rep. Steve Israel (D. 3rd District). “I am reaching out to the IRS to make certain that they take into account the unique situation of volunteer firefighters and ensure that fire departments aren’t saddled with costs they can’t handle.”
William F. Murray, president of the Volunteer Firefighters Association of Southern New York, said he is against the new provision to the Affordable Care Act.
“It would really hurt the volunteer fire departments,” Murray said.
According to Murray, while the change to Obamacare would negatively impact volunteer departments, he is hopeful that the efforts of federal lawmakers, will get it changed.
Local village mayors have written to the congressman and to New York’s U.S. Senators, urging them to intervene on behalf of volunteer fire and EMS organizations and exempt them from the Affordable Care Act.
Spokesmen from the Manhasset-Lakeville Fire Department said that their volunteers are already able to receive health insurance by buying into the New York State plan, with their own personal funds, through the Town of North Hempstead. Additionally, many volunteer firefighters have health insurance through their employers.