The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) has issued official comment on the Internal Revenue Service's deliberations in the ongoing effort to interpret how volunteer fire department personnel are accounted for under federal health care legislation.
The IAFC encouraged the IRS to closely examine the unintended impacts the IRS's interim final rule on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) may have on our nation's volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel.
One of the PPACA's reforms is known as the "Shared Responsibility Provision," which requires that large employers offer health insurance to their employees. The PPACA defines large employers as those with 50 or more full-time employees (FTEs) or FTE equivalents. The PPACA further defines an FTE to be an employee working 30 or more hours per week. If a large employer fails to offer insurance to their FTEs, they can be fined for each FTE not being offered health insurance. However, the PPACA does waive the first 30 FTEs when calculating how much a large employer would be fined for failing to offer insurance.
The uncertainty surrounding the Shared Responsibility Provision is compounded for fire departments due to conflicting federal guidance on whether a volunteer firefighter or emergency medical provider is an employee of their fire department. While the Department of Labor classified most volunteers as non-employees, the IRS is responsible for enforcing the Shared Responsibility Provision and considers all volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel to be employees of their fire department.
If the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel as employees in their final rule, fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to curtail their emergency response activities or close entirely.