Representatives of several Blair county fire departments met with Congressman Bill Shuster this afternoon looking for some help in Washington. They want to stop this mandate for health care coverage for volunteers before it puts them out of business.
This small gathering at the Neptune fire company in Tyrone was called because a provision of the pending affordable care act, or Obama-care. The regulations appear to conclude that volunteer firefighters, in companies with more than fifty members, have to be considered employees. As such they would be eligible for fire company provided health care insurance coverage. But those who understand how volunteer fire companies work say that provision could put many fire companies out of business.
"The cost of putting individual health care into a volunteer fire department could bankrupt the department budget wise. Or where would they get the money, that is the question? A lot of fire departments struggle now, how do you pay several hundred thousand dollars in health care?"
The people in charge of fire companies say they have never been in the business of providing health care coverage, and their members don't look to them for that protection.
"Most of our members fortunately are employed and they all have health insurance though their employers. This would be a double dip and you can't collect twice."
Now these fire company representatives are pushing for legislation to exempt volunteers from the mandated health care coverage. It’s an effort Congressman Bill Shuster has agreed to support.
"Well just to clarify that volunteer firemen are not employees of the fire company. They are volunteers. And in many cases they pay dues to be here. As was explained by the firemen here, nobody joins the fire company because of the benefits."
The Congressman says a bill has already been introduced that would exempt volunteers from the mandated health care coverage. Shuster says he expects there to be wide spread bipartisan support for the measure when it comes up for consideration in the New Year.
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