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January 11, 2014

Barletta’s heat on IRS forces decision on ACA, volunteers

WASHINGTON — What began as a one-man campaign by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta to protect volunteer firefighters and emergency first-responders from the unintended consequences of Obamacare paid off Friday when he learned those parties will not be subject to the Employer Mandate Provision.

The Hazleton Republican had been concerned since November that the Internal Revenue Service viewed volunteer firefighters as employees, which under the Affordable Care Act would force fire companies and municipalities to provide health insurance or face pay a fine.

Under the Employer Mandate Provision, employers with 50 or more workers must provide health insurance or pay penalties — a problem in Pennsylvania, where 97 percent of fire companies rely exclusively or mostly on volunteers.

Barletta had repeatedly questioned the IRS for an interpretation on volunteer firefighters and emergency responders as they related to the Employer Mandate Provision.

He got his answer Friday.

In announcing the change in their interpretation of Obamacare for volunteer firefighters, the Treasury and the IRS wrote, “The forthcoming final regulations relating to employer-shared responsibility generally will not require volunteer hours of bona fide volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical personnel at governmental or tax-exempt organizations to be counted when determining full-time employees (or full-time equivalents).

“These final regulations,” the letter stated, “are intended to provide timely guidance for the volunteer emergency responder community. We think this guidance strikes the appropriate balance in the treatment provided to traditional full-time emergency responder employees, bona fide volunteers, and to our nation’s first-responder units, many of which rely heavily on volunteers.”

Barletta’s point exactly.

“I am pleased the IRS has finally issued guidance on a question I have been seeking answers to for months,” Barletta said Friday night. “I first learned about this issue from a volunteer firefighter back home, which originally prompted my letter to the IRS. After receiving no answer from the IRS, I began a crusade to end the uncertainty that the ACA was causing volunteer firefighters, firehouses and municipalities across Pennsylvania and the country.”

Barletta introduced House Resolution 3685, the “Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act,” which would specifically exempt volunteer firefighters and emergency responders from the Employer Mandate Provision of the Affordable Care Act.

“In the end, common sense prevailed and firehouses won’t have to shut their door,” Barletta said.

Just two days ago Barletta and a group of concerned colleagues from both sides of the aisle took to the House floor to promote and support his legislation.

“It took me by surprise,” Barletta said, “that Obamacare could force volunteer fire companies to provide health insurance to their volunteers or pay a fine. That would burden them with unbearable costs and possibly cause them to reduce the number of volunteers they have or shut their doors all together. Simply put: This always was a public safety issue.”

Barletta sent the IRS a letter in November requesting a clarification, but the correspondence had gone unanswered.

 

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