A bi-partisan group of senators is pushing to exempt volunteer fire fighters and emergency responders from the Affordable Care Acts employer mandate, a move that could affect the way their employers and benefit advisers permanently calculate full-time employees under the health care reform law.
Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) on Monday introduced legislation (S.420) that would codify IRS regulations prohibiting volunteer emergency responders from being counted as full-time equivalent employees for the purpose of determining the employer mandate. The House voted unanimously in January to pass a similar bill, H.R. 33 Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.
Some volunteer firefighters are nominally paid, and most volunteer first responders have other full-time employment. Therefore, the senators say, many emergency response agencies do not have the resources to provide pay or benefits to volunteers, nor do most volunteer first responders expect to receive compensation or health coverage as a result of their volunteer public service.
The IRS has historically treated volunteer firefighters as employees for other tax purposes, and there were concerns that the IRS would treat them as employees for purposes of the ACA employer shared responsibility rule.
In December 2013, following a similar effort spearheaded by Sen. Toomey and Sen. Warner, the IRS issued guidance stating that volunteer firefighters and emergency responders would not be counted as full-time employees under the presidents health care law. Absent legislation, however, the senators say the IRS could still reverse course.
The Obama Administration has already agreed that volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel should not be counted as full-time employees under the Affordable Care Act, says Warner, adding that this bill would ensure that the law permanently and properly distinguishes between full-time, paid emergency responders and volunteers so that emergency response agencies can continue focusing on keeping our communities safe.
The International Association of Fire Chiefs has warned that without this exemption over 780,000 volunteer firefighters could be subject to the ACA employer mandate rules, which could lead to volunteer fire departments closing or significantly curtailing their emergency response activities.
Senate bill 420 has been referred to the Senate Committee on Finance.
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