House Passes Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act

On March 11, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 3979, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, by a vote of 410-0. The bill would clarify in statute that volunteer emergency responders will not be treated as employees under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare), even if they receive nominal recruitment and retention incentives.

“This is a tremendous victory for anyone who lives and works in an area that depends on volunteer firefighters for their safety – which means a huge majority of Americans,” said Representative Lou Barletta (R-PA), the author of H.R. 3979. “Firehouses and municipalities across the country need assurance that they wouldn’t have to pay costly fines or shut their doors. This bill provides them with that security.”

At issue is the fact that under Obamacare, emergency services agencies could be penalized for not offering health insurance coverage to their volunteers. Last September, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Treasury requesting that it clarify in final implementing regulations that volunteers would not be counted as employees under the health care reform law.

According to a press release on his web site, “Barletta was first alerted to the issue during a parade in the 11th District by Robert Timko, a volunteer firefighter for the Fairview Township Fire Company, who also serves as the Pennsylvania Alternate Director for the National Volunteer Fire Council. Barletta then sent a letter to the IRS seeking the clarification regarding volunteer firefighters and their status under the Employer Mandate Provision contained in Obamacare.”

In December, Representative Barletta introduced H.R. 3979. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced companion legislation, S. 1798. On February 10 the Department of Treasury published final implementing regulations clarifying that bona fide volunteers, including those who receive reasonable benefits or nominal compensation for their service to governmental or tax-exempt organizations, will not be counted as employees under the PPACA.