Laura BerryKPTM(OMAHA)-Volunteer firefighters risk their lives to put out fires. But thousands may not be able to do that for much longer. The I.R.S. says volunteer firefighters are technically employees due to the liability risk involved with being a firefighter. Making many eligible for Obamacare's employee-mandate rules and on the hook for health insurance costs.
Nebraska volunteer firefighters are used to battling big blazes, but the latest showdown has them up against what's hidden amongst about two thousand pages of legislation. It all comes down to how an employee is defined under the Affordable Care Act.
Bill Lundy of the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association says the group's interpretation of the A.C.A. has volunteer fire departments in Nebraska and across the nation who have 50 or more workers obligated to provide health insurance to them whether or not they get a paycheck. "The question is do we reduce the volunteer firefighters we have so that we don't have to pay for insurance? The downside of that, then we don't have enough people to respond to emergencies," said Lundy.
For Louisville Fire Chief Jason McClun, fighting fires is a family tradition he'd like to continue. "My grandfather joined in 1963, and somebody in my family has been on the department since then," said McClun. Though Louisville's department has just 25 workers, McClun is worried that it could be impacted, should more volunteers be needed.
Another challenge - nearby Plattsmouth - with whom Louisville pools resources when needed- has close to fifty workers and was recently looking for more volunteers, which both McClun and Lundy agree are in short supply. While McClun says he likes the idea of health insurance as a way to entice more volunteers into Nebraska departments, he worries about the costs associated with the mandated coverage. "The bad side of it, is just how are we going to pay for it?" said McClun .
Lundy warns that if volunteer fire departments aren't exempted from Obamacare, fewer responders could lead to consolidation and longer response times. "What it means is a lot higher fire losses, more total losses and then on medical calls - on those critical incidents- heart attacks, accidents and those types of things, the survivability rate is going to go way down," said Lundy, who adds that out of Nebraska's more than 12-thousand firefighters, 85 percent are volunteers.
To learn more about the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association:
For more information on Louisville's Volunteer Fire Department:
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