Press Releases

Congressman Reed Cosponsors Bill Protecting Volunteer Firefighters; Ems Volunteers from Harmful Obamacare Impact

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Washington, DC, January 7, 2014 | comments

Congressman Tom Reed is taking legislative action to protect volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel from being treated as full-time employees rather than volunteers under the President’s health care law. Reed announced he is co-sponsoring the bipartisan Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act to ensure emergency services volunteers are not subjected to the employer mandate under Obamacare. Reed says such a distinction would burden communities with unnecessary costs as the vast majority of volunteers obtain health care through their primary employer, not the volunteer organization.

“Volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services personnel deserve full support and backing, not barriers that potentially put them out of business,” Congressman Reed said. “We rely heavily on our volunteer firefighters in our time of need. Just as they care for us, we need to care for and protect them so they can continue serving our communities. Many of our rural communities rely exclusively on volunteer fire departments for fire and emergency medical services – they cannot afford to have services reduced with regulations that put public safety at risk.”

Volunteer firefighters and other volunteer emergency personnel are often assigned to multiple 12 and 24 hour shifts, easily putting them in excess of 30 hours per week. Under Obamacare though, employers with at least 50 employees are required to provide health insurance to employees who work at least 30 hours per week or face a penalty, forcing many fire departments to eliminate volunteers who typically receive their health care through their full-time jobs elsewhere. The Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act ensures that emergency services volunteers are not counted as full-time employees under the employer mandate under Obamacare.

Gary Baxter, former Geneva Fire Commissioner said of the bill, “I am glad to see that Congressman Reed has taken an active role in correcting an error in the Affordable Care act that would cost Volunteer Ambulance and Volunteer Fire Departments money out of the department’s budget that they could not afford. As a past Fire Commissioner for the City of Geneva I know the importance our volunteers play in protecting and serving the people in the community and they do not need extra unneeded cost.”

“Volunteer fire departments are the fabric that holds our communities together,” said Pat Gavin, volunteer firefighter in Owego for 18 years. “Unfortunately the ranks in the volunteer fire service are on the decline due to increasing training and other regulatory requirements. Left unchecked this unforeseen consequence of Obamacare could only further this trend. Congressman Reed should be applauded for stepping up to the plate for us.”

Mike Smith, Chemung County Director of Emergency Management Services said, “This issue is of extraordinary importance to the volunteer fire services of Chemung County and the surrounding area. With the limited budget for emergency services, we already struggle to make sure that our volunteers have adequate equipment and we do not have the financial wherewithal to fund this additional mandate.”

"Although this is an unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act, it has the ability to make a serious, negative impact on volunteer fire departments and EMS," said Christopher Baker of the Cattaraugus County Office of Emergency Services. "The impact would be absolutely detrimental to those critical services, especially in rural areas like Cattaraugus County. Those services already operate on limited budgets and with limited manpower, any reduction in those resources would cripple the emergency response system in our area. I applaud Congressman Reed's efforts to protect our volunteers and appreciate the support of his fellow legislators in passing the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act. Legislation like this is the only way to ensure the volunteer emergency responders are safe from the financial impacts of Obamacare and can continue to provide service to their communities."

“Forcing fire departments to make the tough decision to eliminate volunteers is not fair to the departments, the volunteers who selflessly give their time and expertise, or the communities who benefit from their emergency services,” Reed continued. “This is yet another harmful consequence resulting from the President’s health care law and one we must work to make right.”

The bill currently has over 70 bipartisan co-sponsors and is backed by local, state and national fire and emergency responder organizations, including the National Volunteer Fire Council. Under the bill, emergency services volunteers would include volunteer firefighters and volunteers providing emergency medical services (EMTs).

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