Volunteer Departments Face Mandates Under Health Care Law

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Capitol Hill lawmakers in both the House and Senate are crafting bi-partisan legislation exempting volunteer departments from the Affordable Care Act.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin is part of a bill in the Senate, and a House Bill is also in the works. Congressman Bill Johnson is expected to be among its supporters.

"You're going to wind up with a lot of communities who only have volunteer fire departments who won't have them," says Johnson (R-OH, 6th District). "This is just wrong-headed thinking, and I can tell you my colleagues are talking about this as we speak. Something's got to be done about this."

West Virginia Congressman David McKinley, a co-sponsor of the House bill, says part of the issue is that the Internal Revenue Service classifies volunteer firefighters as employees, even though most are not paid for their work, and, in fact, have separate full-time jobs.

Vienna's volunteer department has 28 members, well below the 50 required under the government mandate. But its fire chief is concerned how this might affect other departments.

"Most departments are fighting to keep their doors open selling hot dogs, ice cream socials, soup bean dinners, just to stay operational," says Fire Chief Steve Scholl. "There's no way they can afford to offer medical health care to their firefighters. It's just impossible."

Manchin's statement says the Senate bill makes a clear distinction between volunteers and paid emergency responders.

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