Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.,re.) said Thursday he has signed on as a co-sponsor of a bill to exempt volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians from the employer mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
The Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act (H.R. 3685) was introduced in the U.S. House on Dec. 10 with bipartisan support, the congressman said.
“Volunteer firefighters and emergency responders serve their communities every day to protect lives and property and keep their neighbors safe," he said. "Their units shouldn’t be forced to choose between buying life-saving equipment and complying with IRS mandates under the new health care law."
"I’m co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to protect these volunteer units from Obamacare’s mandate, so they can focus on their mission: keeping Oregonians safe,” he added.
Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells applauded Walden for his support of the bill.
"I believe it is critically important that emergency service agencies not be required to offer health insurance to their volunteer personnel," Wells said. "Most of those agencies do not have the financial resources to provide that type of benefit to their volunteers. Also, most volunteers have no expectation of receiving health insurance from their fire agency."
“The financial impact this could have on volunteer agencies would be devastating, potentially reducing the number of volunteers and the level of service provided to the citizens they are sworn to protect," the fire chief added. "The bill that has been introduced to exempt volunteer emergency service workers from the ACA provides an opportunity for volunteer fire agencies to continue providing exceptional service without worrying about the loss of volunteers or financial difficulties.”
The IRS — which is charged with enforcing many of the mandates contained in the new health care law — considers volunteer firefighters and emergency medical technicians working 30 hours per week as full-time employees, forcing them to provide health insurance or pay a fine if they are large enough.
These IRS regulations could have a big impact on fire departments in Oregon. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, nearly 90 percent of Oregon’s 297 fire departments are classified as all-volunteer or mostly volunteer agencies.