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Volunteer Firefighters and the Affordable Care Act

Are the hours of volunteer firefighters and other volunteer emergency responders counted for purposes of determining whether the employing local government is subject to the health care coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? "No," according to forthcoming final regulations from the Treasury Department.

The ACA requires that employers with 50 or more full-time employees offer affordable and adequate health care coverage to its employees or face a tax penalty. (The effective date of this mandate has been postponed and will now go into effect in 2015.) For purposes of determining whether the 50-employee threshold has been met, "full-time" means 30 hours or more per week on average, while the hours of employees working less than that are aggregated into full-time equivalents. This has raised questions in jurisdictions near the 50-employee threshold about how to count the hours of volunteer firefighters and other volunteer emergency responders. If volunteer firefighters are counted towards the 50-employee threshold, these jurisdictions may face a choice between laying off volunteers, providing them with health care coverage, or paying a penalty.

The Treasury Department will address this concern in its forthcoming final regulations. See Treasury Ensures Fair Treatment for Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency
Responders Under the Affordable Care Act, (1/10/2014), by Mark J. Mazur, Assistant Secretary for Tax Policy.  According to Mr. Mazur, the final regulations, which will be adopted shortly, "generally will not require volunteer the hours of bona fide volunteer fire fighters or volunteer emergency medical personnel at governmental or tax-exempt organizations to be counted when determining full-time employees (or full-time equivalents)."

These regulations should remove any doubt or concerns about how to treat volunteer fire fighters in regard to the ACA mandate for public employers. And, federal legislation has been introduced with bipartisan support that, if passed, will also ensure that volunteer firefighters are not counted when determining coverage under the ACA. That would be a rare show of bipartisanship agreement!

Photo Courtesy of Robert Fairchild

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About Pat Mason

Pat served as MRSC's Legal Manager and wrote about public records, open public meetings, and just about any other municipal legal issue. He is now retired.