Maine Senators push first responder exemption from health care law



Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King last week joined forces behind a bill that would exempt emergency first responders from certain requirements of the Affordable Care Act, more commonly known as Obamacare.

Obamacare forces employers with more than 50 full-time employees to provide health insurance to employees who work more than 30 hours per week, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has ruled that firefighters and other first responders that receive nominal benefits from their departments (including stipends and end-of-the-year awards) count as “employees.”

The Obamacare regulations together with the IRS’ ruling means many firefighters and first responders will be out of a job unless the law is amended.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-Va.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) are leading the effort to protect first responders from the consequences of Obamacare by exempting volunteers from its mandates.

Angus King

Sen. Angus King, U-Maine

“Maine boasts one of the highest percentages of volunteer and on-call firefighters in the nation, and these brave men and women play a vital role in keeping our communities safe each and every day,” Collins said in a press release.  “It is unacceptable that an undue burden could be placed on volunteer fire departments across the country, and it is imperative that this ambiguity in the law be clarified and fixed.”

King said in a press statement that the bipartisan legislation will draw an important distinction between those volunteers and full-time, paid staff.

Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.) and Mark Begich (D-Alaska) have co-sponsored the senate bill.

This legislation has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, and Congressional Fire Services Institute.

The fire service organizations released a statement in support of the bill on Wednesday, stating that Obamacare, unless amended, would cause “serious financial hardship to fire departments.”

“Many volunteer fire departments rely upon local donations and fundraisers to fund their basic operations,” the groups said. “The addition of a requirement to provide health insurance would present a serious financial challenge to them.”

About Steve Robinson

Steve Robinson is the former editor of The Maine Wire and currently the executive producer of the Kirk Minihane Show. Follow him on Twitter @BigSteve207.