Help prevent volunteer departments from paying health insurance

Ask your representative to the combat health-insurance requirement for volunteer employees that work more than 30 hours per week

The life of a volunteer firefighter is becoming more and more difficult with the dawning of each new day.

The latest challenge to our volunteer departments may be the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act also known as "Obamacare."

Under the PPACA, employers with more than 50 full-time employees (or their FTE equivalents) must provide health insurance to employees who work more than 30 hours per week.

In early autumn, the Congressional Fire Services Institute, the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and several members of Congress sent letters to the IRS asking Acting-Commissioner Werfel to release regulations or guidance stating volunteers who receive nominal compensation will not be considered employees under PPACA.

Unfortunately, in the past the IRS has ruled that volunteer firefighters who receive nominal benefits from their fire departments (including stipends, end-of-the-year banquets and awards) count as employees of fire departments. An unintended consequence of this IRS ruling is that fire departments may have to provide health insurance to volunteers that serve more than 30 hours per week at their local fire department.

What you can do
To combat this, on Dec. 10, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) introduced the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act (H.R. 3685 and S. 1798). The legislation ensures that volunteers are not counted as full-time employees under the shared responsibility requirements contained in PPACA.

Please contact your representatives and ask them to support this vital piece of legislation.

When this first came to the attention of volunteer firefighters almost three months ago many of us said, "Wait 30 hours per week for our firefighters, that doesn’t apply to us at all." But over time, more and more of us realized that the 30-hour timeline is something that we may easily cross each week.

For example, if your department answers 250 calls each year, you average about five calls per week. If three of these alarms were minor incidents and lasted for two hours each, and two alarms were a little more involved and lasted four hours each, you have already accumulated 14 hours for one week. If you train one night each week and have a weekly bingo, then happen to have a raffle, dinner or dance that same week, you are very quickly approaching the 30-hour time barrier, if not already over it.

And that’s if things are slow. The 30-hour limit is easily exceeded during a dry season when you are running on three or four brush or wildland calls each day. Just as demanding are the extreme cold days when you are answering structure fire calls or chimney fires in multiples. Finally there’s also those severe weather incidents when we are at the station around the clock for several days.

Keeping books
A second concern is who will be responsible for monitoring firefighters' hours for the week? A number of volunteer departments are already having problems finding members to take administrative positions such as secretary and treasurer. On top of tracking fire calls, training hours, and fundraising time, someone will now have to serve as the health insurance hour monitor.

What will this person do if it is Thursday and several members have reached 29 hours of service for the week? Will the monitor be responsible for contacting the members and instructing them not to respond until next week?

Finally, where will the funding come from to pay for insurance for these members, or to pay the penalty for violating the law?   

To help ensure volunteers are not considered full-time employees under "Obamacare," don’t forget to contact your local representatives and ask them to support the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act. 

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