Wednesday, January 8, 2014

An Exemption Big Enough to Drive a Firetruck Through

So it sounds like the Affordable Care Act may cause problems for volunteer fire departments, requiring them to pay for health coverage for their volunteers.

Wait a minute, you say -- aren't volunteer fire fighters volunteers?

Well, no. The IRS decided to classify them as employees years ago because they aren't what one would normally think of as volunteers. Their hours are controlled by the department, they get stipends and gym memberships, and sometimes they even receive retirement benefits. I had no idea.

(They actually sound more like badly paid employees than volunteers to me.)

But hey -- isn't there a requirement that employees have to work more than 30 hours a week before the ACA starts to require coverage? How many volunteers are able to put in more than 30 hours a week? That's at least six hours a day, if it's just on weekdays, or more than four hours and 17 minutes per day if it's seven days a week. Who can do that on a regular basis if s/he has a day job or a farm to maintain?

The fire chief of Freeport, Maine, is cited in one story: "in a busy winter with lots of fires, emergency calls, and accidents, he said his roughly 50 volunteers could work more than 30 hours a week…"

Seriously? I assume those 30 hours don't count being on call. That would be silly -- being on call at home or at work (not at the firehouse) shouldn't count as working for the fire department.

I would like to see some thorough statistics on these fire departments before anyone starts altering the ACA to accommodate them. I can't believe there are that many departments with over 50 volunteers working 30 hours or more on a regular basis.

I hope someone keeps in mind the possibility of unintended consequences if departments are allowed an exemption. What other groups will claim their employees are volunteers? Make sure there are no loopholes in this one, Congress. story on the question

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