LELAND, NC (WECT) – At least one local fire chief says he's concerned about the effects that could result from the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare."
Leland Fire Chief John Grimes said the law could negatively affect the number of volunteer firefighters and emergency workers on staff in our area.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to provide health insurance to full-time employees or face a tax penalty. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has determined for tax purposes, volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel are "employees" of the agencies that they serve.
Previously, this determination was only significant with regard to how benefits that volunteers receive are reported to and taxed by the federal government.
With passage of PPACA, however, volunteer fire and EMS departments could end up being required to provide health insurance to volunteer personnel who "work" for the agency they serve for 30 or more hours per week on a regular basis. If so, some organizations may have to cut a major portion of their staff because they won't be able to afford those insurance rates.
Grimes said he relies on volunteers to keep the North Brunswick County community safe. Right now, the department has a little more than 100 volunteers.
Last year, those volunteers put in more than 20,000 hours of work with the department.
"It's a very big impact that the IRS ruling will have in our community," he said. "We will have to eliminate quite a few volunteer positions because we won't be able to afford to provide them with health care."
If that happens, the largest town in Brunswick County would be down half a fire department. He's worried about the possible impact beyond our area.
"It's all volunteer organizations that could suffer," said Grimes. "It could be the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, any of those national organizations out there, any type of organization that uses volunteers, this affects them too."
So, instead of fighting fires, Chief Grimes is spending a lot of his time fighting legislation.
"This is something new, never been done in our lifetime. It's never even been attempted. It's truly a historic piece of legislation and it needs time," said Grimes. "Everyone needs to be patient and there will be unintended consequences that need to be amended."
Grimes said the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) already has boots on the ground in Washington – working with federal legislators as to what adjustments can be made to allow volunteers to be treated as such.
The IRS is currently in the process of developing final implementing regulations for the PPACA and Congress is holding hearings to identify potential issues of public concern associated with the law. The official IRS rulings are expected to come down in the middle of October.
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