International Association of Fire Chiefs seeks clarification on volunteer firefighters under Obamacare Act

Published:  16 September, 2013

How should volunteer fire department personnel be accounted for under new US federal healthcare legislation?

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), has issued official comment on the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) deliberations in the ongoing effort to interpret how volunteer fire department personnel are accounted for under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The IAFC encouraged the IRS to closely examine the unintended impacts the IRS’ interim final rule on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) may have on the USA’s volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

Who is an employee?

One of the PPACA’s reforms is known as the “Shared Responsibility Provision,” which requires that large employers offer health insurance to their employees. The PPACA defines large employers as those with 50 or more full-time employees (FTEs) or FTE equivalents. The PPACA further defines an FTE to be an employee working 30 or more hours per week. If a large employer fails to offer insurance to their FTEs, they can be fined for each FTE not being offered health insurance. However, the PPACA does waive the first 30 FTEs when calculating how much a large employer would be fined for failing to offer insurance.

The uncertainty surrounding the Shared Responsibility Provision is compounded for fire departments due to conflicting federal guidance on whether a volunteer firefighter or emergency medical provider is an employee of their fire department. While the Department of Labor classified most volunteers as non-employees, the IRS is responsible for enforcing the Shared Responsibility Provision and considers all volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel to be employees of their fire department.

If the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel as employees in their final rule, US fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to curtail their emergency response activities or close entirely.

The IAFC’s solutions for volunteers

In its comments, the IAFC has requested that the IRS final rule contain the following applications for volunteer responders:

  • Exclusion of Volunteer Firefighters. The IAFC identified current federal regulations that could be expanded to prevent volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel from being categorized as employees of their fire department.
  • Defining Hours of Service: If the IRS cannot exclude volunteers from being considered employees, the IAFC recommends the IRS count only hours spent on-duty, in training or responding to emergency incidents. Hours of service should not be counted when a volunteer merely has their pager or cell phone and are not responding to an emergency.

Over the past several months, the IAFC says it has had many positive discussions with the White House, the IRS and members of Congress to secure clear answers for US fire and emergency service. While progress is being made, the IAFC says that many issues remain unresolved as the IRS has not yet released its final rules for implementing the Shared Responsibility Provision.

The IAFC is determined to identify specific, written federal guidance on how the PPACA will be applied to fire departments and ensure those applications are consistent with existing federal regulations.

The IAFC encourages its members to visit its new PPACA resource webpage to learn more about these issues and keep current on how they evolve.

  • Operation Florian

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