Whidbey Island fire districts may need to provide health coverage to their volunteers

Fire districts may have to become compliant with the Affordable Care Act by 2015.

Volunteer firefighters are considered employees when it comes to the Affordable Care Act, said Marv Koorn, North Whidbey Fire and Rescue chief.

“At this point we have a year to investigate all what’s going on,” Koorn said. “We’re going to have to track all the volunteer hours until the IRS or Congress exempt volunteers.”

Any business or organization with more than 50 employees that work more than 30 hours per week is required to provide health insurance for its employees beginning 2015.

If an employer does not offer coverage to the employees and their dependents, they could be fined $2,000 per employee by the IRS. Any volunteer with more than 30 hours per week is considered a full-time employee the district must provide benefits for.

“We can’t afford medical or the fines,” Koorn said.

The mandate was scheduled to begin 2014, but the Treasury Department delayed implementation for businesses and organizations until 2015.

Because of the 2015 delay, Koorn is confident the district can stay under the 50 person full-time limit. Currently the district has 70 volunteers, which includes those in training and responders, and 22 part-timers.

In September, the National Volunteer Fire Council sent a letter to the IRS, requesting volunteers be exempted.

According to the letter, 87 percent of fire departments nationwide are staffed by volunteer firefighters.

“Communities that rely on volunteer emergency responders are commonly rural, with small tax bases and higher-than-average rates of poverty,” the letter states.

Legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives Tuesday, Dec. 10 clarifying “qualified emergency services volunteers” not be considered employees under the law.


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