The House on March 17 unanimously approved for the third time, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Bill (HR 1191), which ensures that emergency services volunteers are not counted as full-time employees by the IRS under the employer mandate of the Patient Protection and Affordability Care Act (PPACA) (P.L. 111-148). The final vote was 415 to 0.
Under the employer mandate provision, employers with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance or pay penalties. If volunteers were considered employees, fire companies could exceed the 50-employee threshold in several different ways: a volunteer department by itself based on size; by being part of a combined, paid-volunteer fire department; or by being part of a municipality that has 50 or more public employees in total. Initially, the IRS declined to indicate how it would classify hours of service for emergency volunteers under the PPACA, meaning that fire companies and municipalities could be forced to provide volunteers with health insurance or pay a fine.
The passage of the legislation marks the third time Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., has introduced the same legislation. Both previous bills passed the House by similar unanimous votes–first by a vote of 410 to 0, and then by a 401-to-0 vote. The Senate has failed to act on the bill each time. “To be clear, forcing volunteer fire companies to comply with Obamacare will not extend health insurance to the uninsured,” Barletta said. “Rather, it will close firehouses, placing people at risk.”