Obamacare mandates that fire departments pay for health benefits - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

Obamacare mandates that fire departments pay for health benefits for many volunteer firefighters

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A portion of the Obamacare law mandates that many fire departments across the country will have to provide medical benefits to volunteer firefighters. That could mean fewer firefighters on the job.

Chief Tommy Norris of the Awendaw District Fire Department is like many firefighters, "my dad was a volunteer firefighter and I knew that's what I wanted to do when I grew up."

Watching his dad volunteer gave him a desire to fight fires one day. Well, as it is currently written, the health care law could mean fewer firefighters out there for kids to look up to. "The National Volunteer Fire Council asked the IRS to rule, just recently, if volunteers would be classified as employees in the definition of the Affordable Care Act, and they were."

That means any organization that has volunteer firefighters or rescue crews, with 50 or more employees, will have to start offering and providing medical benefits to employees who volunteer 30 or more hours per week.

Norris says that has a big impact. "My 12 volunteers, if we had to provide health coverage for all those volunteers, it would come out to about $85,000 per year added to the budget."

There are 11,000 volunteer firefighters in South Carolina. The SC State Firefighters Association says it would cost about $55 million per year to provide health benefits to all those volunteers.

The association says that on December the 10th, bills were introduced in the House and Senate that would exempt volunteer firefighters and other rescue workers from the Obamacare mandate.

"There are several organizations in the state have upwards of 200, 300, even 400 volunteers in the county, and for those organizations, if they had to provide healthcare for volunteer firefighters, it would be a tremendous impact. And if you have to provide it you have to do something, either you have to let volunteers go or you have to cut services."

South Carolina Congressman Joe Wilson signed on as a sponsor of the legislation in the House. Association officials say they hope to see that legislation pass in the House and Senate sometime in early 2014.

78 of the firefighting organizations in South Carolina are mandated to provide health benefits to volunteers under Obamacare.

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