Officials with the state Fireman’s Association are asking that volunteer fire departments and rescue squads be exempt from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act.
Currently Obamacare includes language that requires volunteer fire departments in the state with greater than 50 employees that average more than 30 hours a week to provide healthcare coverage to their members.
Tom Miller with the state Fireman’s Association, who is also part of the legislative committee, said if this mandate goes into effect, a large number of VFDs will be negatively impacted.
“We’ve predicted that it could impact as many as 30 fire departments in the state and certainly the state can’t afford to lose 30 VFDs,” he said.
Senator Joe Manchin has introduced a bill on the U.S. Senate side that would exempt the VFDs from the mandate and a similar bill has also been introduced on the U.S. House side as well.
Miller said there seems to be support for the exemption in both the House and Senate sides but another issue has come up that could be a major roadblock.
“There’s been so many exemptions granted that the IRS is reluctant to grant additional exemptions,” he said.
The mandate would impact departments that are either individually by itself or those that are part of the municipality that it serves. This would include VFDs in New Martinsville, Shinnston and Stonewood to name a few.
Miller said VFDs normally set up their budgets a year in advance and many are currently trying to plan ahead and decide how to survive with the mandate.
“Some have talked about dismissing volunteers so they can get below the 50 number,” he explains. “Some have talked about curtailing services so they drop their services hours below 30 hours a week.”
Currently over 90 percent of the Mountain State is protected by more than 416 VFDs with 10,000 active volunteers.
Miller said regardless of what the departments do, the impacts are not going to be positive. He said something needs to be done and done very soon.
“I guess we are kind of tired of being an over-site,” he said. “Someone need to look at the impact of these kind of decisions on how it’s going to affect the day to day emergency response in communities.”
The mandate would officially go into effect in January 2015.