The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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Editorials

December 17, 2013

Burned up

Volunteer firefighters are invaluable and irreplaceable to the communities they serve. They spend a full shift laboring at their “real” job, but when the alarm sounds to alert them to a fire, they forget about rest, sleep and comfort. They race to the blaze, saving lives and property.

We can rightfully call them heroes.

We have to wonder then, why governments seem to go out of their way to make it difficult for volunteer departments to survive.

A few years ago, many departments faced possible closure because of changes in how West Virginia workers’ compensation premiums are calculated. Some departments warned they would have to close because of the hefty new premiums. Without nearby fire protection, the residents of those areas faced insurance rate hikes.

Finally, at least in Raleigh County, a fire levy was voted in, saving a number of departments from sure annihilation.

The departments since sailed quietly along — until ...

Until it was discovered that the federal Affordable Care Act would force volunteer departments to provide health insurance for its members. That is based on IRS guidelines that consider as full-time employees volunteers who work more than 30 hours per week.

If the fire departments can’t or won’t buy insurance, they will be forced to pay $2,000 fines per uninsured person per year.

For all of the gallons of ink and truckloads of trees devoted to the health care act, it seems there are a number of these hidden bugs just waiting to jump up and bite us.

Thank goodness for West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, who, along with a handful of other senators, hopes to right this situation. They will present a bill that keeps the volunteer departments and their firefighters out of the Affordable Care Act.

We agree with Manchin’s assessment that the act has had “many missteps and unintentional consequences” during its implementation.

He says this bipartisan fix makes sure there is a clear distinction between full-time, paid emergency responders and volunteers.

While we bless Manchin and his colleagues for attempting to find a way around this potential mess, we must point out that if more time and care had been taken reading and studying the Affordable Care Act before it was passed, there wouldn’t be so much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth now.

If you are concerned that your fire department will be adversely affected by this portion of the health care act, we urge you to contact Sen. Manchin and let him know you support his proposal.

You can reach him at 202-224-3954 or contacting him electronically by going to http://www. manchin.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form

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