By Ann Rowland
Volunteer fire departments with more than 50 personnel have been anxiously awaiting the final IRS regulations regarding whether or not a “volunteer” could be defined as a full-time employee with regards to the Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare). It appears that the Treasury Department and IRS are now ready to release their final regulations and they should bring a sigh of relief to all volunteer fire and EMS departments.
Firefighters and politicians have been questioning the clause in the Affordable Care Act that states that any employer with 50 or more employees must offer affordable and adequate health care coverage to its employees. An employee was defined as someone who works 30 hours or more a week and that number was also called into question. Any business that did not offer this health care would be subject to fines from the IRS.
This was causing great concern for volunteer fire departments across the country because there was no clear guideline as to whether a “volunteer” would be classified as an “employee” or if volunteer departments would be held to the regulation of having to provide health care coverage if they had 50 or more employees. For the past few months, the Bright.com has brought you articles regarding this issue and how fire departments have been lobbying their elected representatives to address this issue. With the anticipated release of the final IRS regulations on this issue, it appears that volunteer fire departments will be exempt from these regulations.
In a statement recently released on behalf of both Treasury Department and the IRS, Mark Mazur, the assistant secretary for tax policy at the United States Department of the Treasury said “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 when determining full-time employees.”
“These final regulations, which we expect to issue shortly, are intended to provide timely guidance for the volunteer emergency responder community,” Mazur said. “We think this guidance strikes the appropriate balance in the treatment provided to traditional full-time emergency responder employees, bona fide volunteers and to our nation’s first responder units, many of which rely heavily on volunteers.”
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who has worked for this ruling, said in response to the new regulations “I’m glad the IRS made a good decision for once when it comes to Obamacare. ….We know what kind of cost that would’ve been put on top of these fire departments; they couldn’t have borne it. And so, whether you like or dislike Obamacare, we ought to be able to agree that volunteers are volunteers, and that’s what the IRS ruling means. It’s very important for our district, very important for our country, and certainly for our firefighters who want to volunteer their services.”