The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Montour County

April 16, 2014

Barletta: Firefighters ACA bill ‘hijacked’

DANVILLE — Rep. Lou Barletta took a rain-soaked tour through Danville on Tuesday, both to visit local businesses and to raise awareness for a piece of legislation he says was hijacked by Congress.

The piece of legislation, known as the Volunteer Firefighter Protection Act, was introduced by Barletta late last year as a way to exempt volunteer firefighter companies from being required to provide health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

The bill was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, but a controversial unemployment compensation extension package was added when the bill went before the Senate.

“The bill has been hijacked by Harry Reid and the Senate,” said Barletta, speaking at Danville’s Friendship Fire Company at 1:15 p.m.

While the IRS already ruled that fire companies could be exempt from ACA costs, Barletta’s bill would have cemented that decision so it could not later be reversed, he said.

The unemployment compensation extension was added without Congress deciding where the money would come from, Barletta said, hence the controversy.

“Nothing should have been added to make it controversial … which this will do,” he said, adding that the bill stands little chance of passing Congress in its new form.

Barletta will still attempt to get an unmodified version of the bill passed.

Ken Struasser, assistant chief of Danville’s fire department, said he hoped the congressman would be successful. “If we have to supply Obamacare to our firefighters … it’ll bankrupt fire companies all over the country,” Strausser said.

Afterward, Barletta toured several downtown shops, including D’s Clothier and Chef Willie’s Creamery.

“We’re happy to have him (Barletta) here and show him around town,” said Jim Wilson, head of the Danville Business Alliance. It gave Wilson and other members of the Danville community the chance to talk about issues such as flood mitigation and how businesses are affected by the Affordable Care Act.

For flood insurance and mitigation, Barletta said Congress recently passed a bill to repel the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Act, which would have caused insurance costs to triple over the next few years. Barletta called that a temporary help, but not a permanent solution as costs will still eventually increase.

He and other members of Congress are also looking at introducing a community ratings system, which would provide discounts of five to 45 percent on flood insurance for communities that take steps to mitigate flood damage.

As for the ACA, Barletta said he and other members of Congress are concerned that provisions of the law keep changing, which has led them to discuss a separate healthcare bill. The new bill would keep some elements of the ACA that people like, but would ultimately not be government run, Barletta said. He and his fellow congressmen saw how the federal program’s roll-out went, and were not impressed. “We think that would just be a preview of what’s to come,” he said.

Email comments to rstoneback@thedanvillenews.com.

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