Latest casualty of ObamaCare: Volunteer fire departments?

Just when one thought the news surrounding the damage being caused by ObamaCare can’t get worse, the Scranton Times-Tribune reports that ObamaCare may well end many volunteer fire departments:

A local congressman wants answers on whether volunteer firefighting companies could be unintentionally swept into the national health care reform law championed by President Barack Obama.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the Internal Revenue Service, which has partial oversight of the law, to clarify if current IRS treatment of volunteer firefighters as employees means their hose companies or towns must offer health insurance coverage or pay a penalty if they don’t.

The organization representing the fire chiefs has been working on the issue with the IRS and White House for months.

While the Department of Labor classifies most volunteer firefighters as volunteers and thus not employees, the IRS currently classifies them as employees. That means that, if a particular department puts in more than 1500 man-hours while using at least 50 volunteers and employees in a week, it must provide health insurance for those who put in at least 30 hours in a week starting in 2015, or sooner if a court decides to toss the administrative 1-year delay in the employer health insurance mandate.

Worse, the IRS has not yet finalized the rules regarding volunteer fire departments, even though both the IAFC and Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) have been urging the IRS to finalize it in favor of volunteer fire departments. Not only is the work that must be clocked, should the volunteers be counted as “employees”, not defined, but it is unknown whether multiple companies in a particular department would be grouped together for the purposes of the 50 “full-time” equivalent requirement.

Many volunteer fire departments operate on shoestring budgets, and they cannot afford the extensive record-keeping required to determine whether they have to provide health insurance and to whom they have to provide health insurance, the cost of said insurance, or the $2,000/eligible person fine if they do not provide health insurance.

The Daily Mail notes that 71% of the firehouses are staffed exclusively by volunteer firefighters, and another 16% have a mixed professional/volunteer staff. It also states that the Treasury Department has “received a number of comments concerning volunteer firefighters and other volunteers in response to proposed regulations issued last December.”

Something tells me that the fact that most volunteer fire departments are not unionized, while most professional fire departments are unionized, will have a greater effect on the final rule than local finances or public safety.

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