Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Columbia) said in a TV interview Monday that he has contacted the IRS about a possible conflict involving volunteer firefighters and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.
In an interview on Fox News’ “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson,” Barletta explained his worries about how the law will affect volunteer firefighters.
“My concern is that the IRS classifies volunteer firefighters as workers and that could subject them to the healthcare law’s standard of 50 people,” Barletta stated. “This could close down firehouses around the country.”
Carlson mentioned that this could apply to 97% of firehouses throughout Pennsylvania and that the state has the fourth largest contingent of volunteer firefighters in the nation.
Barletta stated that he was awaiting clarification from the IRS and was prepared to introduce a bill if necessary to prevent this impasse.
He first brought attention to this issue with a press release last week describing his efforts to find an answer. Additionally, he pointed out that this possibility provides an example of the unintended negative consequences of Obamacare.
“If Obamacare is the law of the land, then so is the law of unintended consequences, and there seems to be a lot of that going around these days,” Barletta said. “Just like the flu.”
Barletta is an opponent of Obamacare and has voted for every attempt to repeal the law since he joined the House in 2011.
According to the International Association of Fire Chiefs, who expressed concern about this issue back in July, the mandate was delayed until January 1, 2015.
According to the IAFC, the provision of the law addressed by Barletta’s bill has already been delayed. In his interview with Carlson, the Congressman reiterated his desire for legislation to back up the administration’s current policy.
Language of the ACA and the IRS Code
In Rep. Barletta’s statement, the Congressman provided the IRS language concerning firefighters:
Generally, tax laws apply to firefighters in the same manner as for other types of workers. It does not matter whether firefighters are termed ‘volunteers’, are considered employees, or are identified by any other name, if the work they do is subject to the will and control of the payer, under the common-law rules, they are employees for Federal tax purposes.
Later on, though, the same passage mentions that this applies whether the employee is a full-time or part-time worker.
It is not clear ultimately whether volunteer firefighters would be required to purchase health insurance (or pay a fine if they refused), because as volunteers, they have a case that they are not full-time employees.
The IRS code related to this portion of the healthcare law describes the employer mandate thusly:
The term “applicable large employer” means, with respect to a calendar year, an employer who employed an average of at least 50 full-time employees on business days during the preceding calendar year.
Given the fact that the law only applies to employers with 50 full-time employees for more than 120 days in a calendar year it seems unlikely that the law would apply. The IRS, however, has yet to respond to Rep. Barletta’s letter.