The Campaign Spot

How Obamacare Is Going to Louse Up Your Local Firehouse

Some days, the news just has a certain rhythm. Here’s a key item in today’s Morning Jolt . . . 

Great. Now Obamacare Is Going to Louse Up Your Local Firehouse . . . 

They had to pass the law so you could see what’s in it. Kind of like Pandora’s Box.

With any luck, Obamacare won’t close down your local firehouse, just curtail emergency response activities:

The International Association of Fire Chiefs has asked the Internal Revenue Service, which has partial oversight of the law, to clarify if current IRS treatment of volunteer firefighters as employees means their hose companies or towns must offer health insurance coverage or pay a penalty if they don’t.

The organization representing the fire chiefs has been working on the issue with the IRS and White House for months.

“It could be a huge deal,” said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, Hazleton, who is seeking clarification from the IRS. “In Pennsylvania, 97 percent of fire departments are fully or mostly volunteer firefighters. It’s the fourth highest amount in the country.”

So far, the IRS hasn’t decided what to do.

Efforts to reach spokesmen for the IRS were unsuccessful.

Under the fire chiefs’ organization’s interpretation, the concern goes like this:

The health care reform law, known officially as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and derisively by Republicans as Obamacare, requires employers with 50 or more full-time employees to offer health insurance. Companies with fewer than 50 employees do not have to offer insurance. Full-time employees are defined as an employee who works 30 or more hours a week.

Such employers who don’t offer health insurance must pay fines.

The requirement is complicated by differing interpretations about the status of volunteer firefighters within the federal government. The Department of Labor, according to the fire chiefs group, classifies most volunteers as non-employees, but the IRS considers all volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel to be employees of their departments.

“If the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel as employees in their final rule, fire departments may be unintentionally forced to comply with requirements that could force them to curtail their emergency response activities or close entirely,” the chiefs’ group says on its website.

At least the president never promised, “If you like your local volunteer fire department, you can keep your local volunteer fire department.”

Being on the right, and having a skepticism about the ability of large, ambitious government programs, and a wariness about unforeseen consequences, isn’t optimistic, or cool, or exciting. It doesn’t stir people’s hearts, it doesn’t lift people’s souls, it doesn’t get their pulses racing or get them to roar cheers of joy.

No, all it has going for it is the long history of how humans have governed themselves and the advantage of avoiding big messes.

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