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Treasury Department announces clarification to health care mandate

Volunteer firefighters exempt from receiving benefits

By: Jackalyn Kovac

Johnstown, Pa. --- The U.S. Treasury Department announced Friday that fire departments do not have to provide health insurance to volunteer firefighters.

The Shared Responsibility Provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act mandated an employer with 50 or more full-time employees must offer affordable and adequate health care coverage to its employees. Full-time employees were defined as anyone working 30 hours or more per week.

Volunteer departments were concerned about how their members fell into those requirements.

"From a financial perspective we were very concerned with the impact. We certainly want to do everything we can for our volunteers, but it was new to us," said Richland Township Battalion Fire Chief Bob Heffelfinger.

Now departments and municipalities won't have to worry about the extra added cost of health care coverage for the volunteer firefighters.

The clarification comes after the Internal Association of Fire Chiefs raised concerns about how the requirement would affect departments relying on volunteers.

"This is an important victory for America's fire and emergency services," said Chief William Metcalf, the IAFC's president and chairman of the board. "The administration recognizes the special nature of America's volunteer firefighters and the critical role they serve in protecting their communities."

Area fire officials agree this clarification is a relief on the financial side of the issue.

"I do believe the financial strain both to the local departments and potentially the municipalities may or probably would have been greater than the benefit received by the individuals with regards to health care coverage," said Heffelfinger. "I'm relieved we don't have that financial burden."

The decision could help cash-strapped departments save thousands of dollars every year. The final regulations on this matter will be issued by the administration at a later time.

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Edgar Snyder

Washington Times