The latest controversy surrounding the Affordable Care Act has to do with firefighting.
The two local fire departments that have expressed the greatest concerns both have about 50 total employees and rely on volunteers and part time workers to keep residents safe.
Volunteers and part time workers have routinely been used to hold down costs.
“Our volunteers do make a small stipend for the calls that they do respond on they are paid per call so they don’t really have an hourly wage put on them,” said Chief Rod Miller of the Plymouth Fire Department
Plymouth has about 13 full time firefighters, but about 35 volunteers. Until recently, Plymouth and other volunteer dependent communities didn’t know if volunteers would be considering “employees” for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act.
It’s a designation that promised to come with a hefty price tag. The law requires that workers who put in more than 30 hours a week be provided health insurance coverage by employers with 50 or more workers on the payroll.
A recent statement from the U.S. Treasury Department indicated that volunteer firefighters will NOT be treated as employees.
“Otherwise smaller departments like that were going to be completely vulnerable to this issue of where in the world was this money going to come from,” said U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, (R) Indiana’s Second District.
Meantime, scores of health care questions remain unresolved at the Penn Township Fire Department which relies on part time help to hold down costs.
“A lot of our part time firefighters are full time elsewhere who have insurance under their full time jobs so we’re trying to find out do we have to cover them also? Under the insurance? We can’t get any answers anywhere,” said Joe Calderone with the Penn Township Fire Department.
And Penn Township Fire Department officials don’t like the “30 hour rule” for health insurance coverage.
“In our line of work we have a 56 hour work week, 30 hours is barely a half a week for us,” said Calderone.
“We’re not asking for any special considerations other than our work week schedule,” said Penn Chief John VanBruaene. “You know we just want them to consider that fact that 30 hour cap is going to greatly impact all the fire departments that use part time personnel to supplement their staffing.”
Penn now typically has its part time workers put in two 24 hour shifts per week. The department fears it may have to cut hours and hire additional firefighters to avoid the higher health care costs.