Treasury:?VFDs won’t be counted in ACA provision

Volunteers won’t count.

The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced volunteer emergency responders will not be counted when determining applicability of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s (PPACA) employer Shared Responsibility Provision, also known as the employer mandate.

With the approach of the mandate, which requires employers with 50 or more employees working 30 or more hours per-week, approaching; a possible oversight within the law was identified. Namely, the possibility that volunteer emergency responders could be counted as employees, requiring larger volunteer fire and emergency service departments to offer health insurance to their volunteers, an expense many departments would find impossible to meet.

While it may seem counterintuitive that a volunteer would be counted as an employee, in some cases the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) does count many volunteer emergency responders as employees, mostly to the benefit of volunteers and their respective departments. Generally, the designation allows departments to offer benefits to draw volunteers such as some sort of pension or even health club memberships.

In anticipation of the Treasury Department’s issuance of final regulations on how the employer mandate will be handled, the possibility of volunteer departments being required to comply led to a flurry of legislation to exempt them.

Following Friday’s announcement, those bills will likely be rendered unneeded.

According to the Treasury Department announcement, a majority of feedback received during the final regulation comment period, as well as correspondence from a number of legislators, suggested emergency volunteers not be counted for purposes of the mandate. The announcement also said the department reviewed existing regulations relating to emergency volunteers.

“As a result of that review and analysis,” the Treasury Department release stated. “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 then determining full-time employees.”

According to the announcement, final regulations on the matter will be issued in the near future.

Two of Warren County’s representatives in Congress were amongst those who voiced concerns over the mandate.

Both Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Glenn Thompson issued statements on the Treasury Department announcement.

“Our local emergency volunteer organizations deserve to have this situation clarified and settled, and today’s announcement by the Treasury Department and IRS is a step in the right direction,” Thompson said in his release. “I look forward to reviewing the formal ruling, which is expected to be issued in the near future, and will work to ensure the final determination provides certainty to our local emergency organizations and the populations they protect.”

Prior to the announcement, Thompson had supported House Resolution 3685, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act, which would have exempted volunteers from being counted toward mandate requirements.

Toomey, meanwhile, issued his own release as well as a copy of a letter he received from the Treasury Department’s Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs Alastair Fitzpayne in response to his concerns on the issue.

“This is great news for first responders in Pennsylvania,” Toomey said in his release. “Our commonwealth has the largest number of volunteer fire departments in country. They play a crucial role in protecting Pennsylvanians each and every day. I am pleased that the administration heard the bipartisan call to protect these fire departments from one of the devastating consequences of Obamacare. Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many dedicated volunteers willing to risk their lives for their fellow citizens and the least we can do is help them keep their doors open.”

Prior to the announcement, Toomey had introduced the Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act in the senate.

State Rep. Kathy Rapp had also expressed support for legislation to exempt emergency services from counting volunteers as employees for the purposes of the mandate.

Warren County has no departments large enough they would have been impacted by the mandate if volunteers had been counted.