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IAFC Asks IRS to Clarify Treatment of Volunteer Firefighters Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), has issued official comment (pdf) on the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) deliberations in the ongoing effort to interpret how volunteer fire department personnel are accounted for under federal healthcare legislation.

The IAFC encouraged the IRS to closely examine the unintended impacts the IRS’ interim final rule on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) may have on our nation’s volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

Who Is an Employee?

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.

The IAFC Offers Solutions for Volunteers

In its comments, the IAFC has requested that the IRS final rule contain the following applications for volunteer responders:

  1. Exclusion of Volunteer Firefighters. The IAFC identified current federal regulations that could be expanded to prevent volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel from being categorized as employees of their fire department.
  2. Defining Hours of Service: If the IRS cannot exclude volunteers from being considered employees, the IAFC recommends the IRS count only hours spent on-duty, in training or responding to emergency incidents. Hours of service should not be counted when a volunteer merely has their pager or cell phone and are not responding to an emergency.

Many Questions Remain

Over the past several months, the IAFC has had many positive discussions with the White House, the IRS and members of Congress to secure clear answers for America’s fire and emergency service. While progress is being made, many issues remain unresolved as the IRS has not yet released its final rules for implementing the Shared Responsibility Provision.

The IAFC is determined to identify specific, written federal guidance on how the PPACA will be applied to fire departments and ensure those applications are consistent with existing federal regulations.

The IAFC urged the IRS to include a section in the final rule to specifically address how volunteer and part-time firefighters and emergency medical personnel should be treated under the Shared Responsibility Provision. The IAFC also submitted a list of questions (pdf) to guide the IRS in providing specific advice for fire departments with volunteer and part-time personnel.

Education Is Critical: The IAFC Offers Resources

Those in Washington will continue to debate the implementation of the PPACA over the next several months, and the Shared Responsibility Provision is just one piece of the puzzle. It is critical that every fire chief become familiar with this legislation and how it may affect their department and services.

The IAFC encourages its members to visit its new PPACA resource webpage to learn more about these issues and keep current on how they evolve.

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