GOP looks to save volunteer firefighters from ObamaCare

Nearly three dozen Republicans have proposed legislation that would amend ObamaCare so that municipalities would not be required under the law to offer health insurance policies to volunteer firefighters and emergency responders.

The lead sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), said he believes the IRS currently treats volunteer firefighters as employees. That would mean municipalities would either have to be give these volunteers health insurance, or face a fine under the law.

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Barletta said that requirement would add additional costs to cities and towns, and potentially put public safety at risk.

"This is just another example of how ObamaCare was not well thought out," Barletta said Tuesday. "I would rather tear down the whole thing and start over again with a fresh health care approach, but the president has made it clear that he won't allow that to happen.

"So, we're left to try to pave over the potholes, and this is a big one — possibly affecting fire stations nationwide."

Barletta said he asked the Internal Revenue Service in November whether it would treat volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders as full-time employees for the purposes of ObamaCare. He said the IRS has not responded, which is forcing him to ensure a legislative fix.

He also noted that according to the IRS's website, the IRS seems likely to require municipalities to offer health insurance to volunteer firefighters.

"Generally, tax laws apply to firefighters in the same manner as for other types of workers," the IRS site says. "It does not matter whether firefighters are termed 'volunteers,' are considered employees, or are identified by any other name, if the work they do is subject to the will and control of the payer, under the common-law rules, they are employees for Federal tax purposes."

Barletta's bill, which has 31 GOP co-sponsors, is also backed by the National Volunteer Fire Council.

"It is critically important that fire and EMS agencies not be forced to offer health insurance to volunteer personnel," said Philip Stittleburg, who chairs the Council. "Agencies don't have the resources to provide health benefits to their volunteers and individual volunteers have no expectation of receiving such benefits from the agencies they serve."