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Obamacare may sink local fire departments

THE International Association of Fire Chiefs has a problem with the Affordable Care Act that is strictly nonpartisan - as well as life-threatening to those who rely on VFDs.

Obamacare may require volunteer fire departments to treat their firefighters as employees, which means the VFDs will have to provide health insurance or pay a fine, which means more Americans could be left without fire protection.

The fire chiefs are working with the Internal Revenue Service to resolve the situation.

The IRS now requires VFDs to issue W-2s for its volunteers, the fire chiefs group said in a fact sheet. That's because the relationship between a VFD and its volunteer firefighters meets the agency's criteria for being defined as an employee relationship.

Thus, if a VFD has 50 or more volunteers and other full-time workers, Obamacare's mandate applies. The rules also take into account part-time workers in a complicated formula that only government officials and human resources personnel can understand.

In two years, the fines will be $2,000 a year for each employee after the 30th employee, which may be cheaper for VFDs than providing health insurance - but why should the IRS fine groups that are tax-exempt for not providing health insurance to volunteers?

Regardless of one's feelings toward Obamacare, everyone should agree that forcing VFDs to provide health insurance for volunteers is nutty.  

But what is nuttier is that the Congress left this up to the IRS to decide whether VFDs have to provide health insurance for firefighters.

No matter how partisan the divide was over passage of this act - Democrats refused to work with Republicans on the plan and vice versa - Americans have to live with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Representatives and senators need to do their job to make Obamacare livable. That means getting off their duffs, stop bickering and fixing dumb things like making VFDs provide health insurance to volunteers. It should not be up to the IRS to do the job of Congress.

Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin should join with Reps. David McKinley, Shelley Moore Capito and Nick Joe Rahall and introduce the West Virginia Saves The VFDs Act that specifically exempts VFDs from Obamacare.

Volunteer fire departments in this state have enough problems staying alive without having to battle the IRS.


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