Bill would exempt volunteer responders from O-Care mandate

Legislation aimed at sparing the nation’s volunteer firefighters and emergency responders from ObamaCare’s employer mandate is attracting bipartisan backing in both chambers of Congress.

More than 100 members of the House and Senate have attached their names to the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, introduced this month in an effort to ensure volunteer departments are not saddled with new costs.

The Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate requires employers with 50 or more workers to either offer health insurance or pay penalties.

Some in Congress fear the provision could be interpreted to apply to volunteer fire departments and other unpaid responders because the Internal Revenue Service currently views volunteer firefighters as employees.

Volunteer agencies that are vital to public safety in many corners of the country would be crushed under the weight of the added regulations, proponents of the legislation contend.

“Properly distinguishing between full-time, paid emergency responders and volunteers is necessary if we want to protect essential emergency response agencies that keep our communities safe and protect over one-third of the U.S. population,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), who introduced the Senate bill.

Nearly two dozen senators from across the political spectrum have signed on as co-sponsors to the legislation, which is now awaiting consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.

The House bill, introduced by Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.), has attracted 76 co-sponsors, including members of both parties and is now pending before the Ways and Means Committee. That bill could see action in early 2014, given the likelihood of movement in the upper chamber, where scores of other House-passed bills have stalled this year.

“Since there is also a bipartisan companion bill in the Senate, I am optimistic that we can have a floor vote on it in the House early in the new year,” Barletta said.

Barletta said the IRS has declined to clarify whether the healthcare rule applies to volunteer agencies, despite a formal request he made last month,

The employer mandate, a cornerstone of the president’s healthcare law, was initially intended to take effect next month. The Obama administration announced this summer that the provision would be delayed until January of 2015.