Rural Oklahoma Fire Departments No Longer Threatened By Affordable Care Act

Tuesday, January 14th 2014, 6:47 pm
By: Craig Day

Rural fire chiefs across the country are breathing easier.

There is now a solution to an unintended consequence of President Obama's employer health care mandate that would have forced most volunteer fire departments to close their doors.

Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, rural fire chiefs nationwide have been worried.

"We didn't know how we were going to be able to do it," said Chief Doug Disler of the Taylor Ferry Fire Department

The law requires employers with more than 50 workers to provide health care coverage.

The concern was that even volunteers would be counted toward that number if they worked more than 30 hours each week.

"It would have closed down I'm sure most of the volunteer departments across the country," Disler said. "They don't have the money to purchase insurance or provide it to their people."

Groups like the International Association of Fire Chiefs worried rural departments, already operating on thin budgets, wouldn't be able to pay for insurance or the Affordable Care Act's penalties if they didn't.

"I don't think they thought that thing through," said Disler.

He said it would have cost his department $40,000 a year for coverage. Wagoner County does have a sales tax that helps to pay for fire service, but it can't be used to meet the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

"Vehicles, the stations, the equipment the guys wear, their training, it pays for our insurance, our fuel," Disler said. "We can't use any part of it for salary or benefits."

The treasury department has now announced what volunteer fire departments have hoped to hear.

"I'm pretty relieved," Disler said.

Those departments and ambulance companies will be exempt from the health care coverage mandate.

"If they didn't change it, we were going to start pulling up tent stakes probably about October," Disler said.

One of the reasons the Treasury Department's ruling is such a huge relief, is because more than 70 percent of fire departments across the country are volunteer departments.