Bennet Cosponsors Bipartisan Bill to Clarify Volunteer First Responders' Status in Health Care Bill

Proposal Designed to Allow Localities to Retain Volunteer First Responders 

Colorado is Home to More than 300 Volunteer Fire Departments

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today cosponsored a bipartisan bill to clarify how volunteer firefighters and other first responders are defined in the new health care law in order to ensure they can continue protecting communities that rely on them.

The Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act amends the Affordable Care Act to make it clear that volunteer emergency service workers are not required to be counted as full-time employees for purposes of healthcare coverage. Counting them as full-time employees would put a strain on cash-strapped volunteer fire departments to provide healthcare coverage for them, while most volunteer first responders do not expect to receive compensation or health coverage as a result of their volunteer public service.

“Coloradans know well how valuable our volunteer first responders are to our communities, especially in some rural areas where volunteers exclusively provide fire protection and emergency medical services,” Bennet said. “This bill is a commonsense fix and improvement to the health care law that ensures we don’t unfairly penalize these brave men and women, who often receive little compensation for their services.”

Unless the provision for full-time employee is clarified, fire departments and other emergency response units that rely heavily on volunteers will be forced to eliminate emergency responders and/or reduce training and emergency response hours, since the cost of complying with the Employer Mandate in the health care law would be nearly impossible to cover.

This bipartisan bill was introduced by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Mark Warner (D-VA), Pat Toomey (R-PA), Angus King (I-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Mark Begich (D-AK). It has been endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Volunteer Fire Council, and Congressional Fire Services Institute.