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Fire Departments Feel Squeeze From Affordable Care Act

The affordable care act goes into effect for Americans in just a few weeks and for businesses by 2015. And that could put a squeeze on many of our local volunteer fire departments. Current rules say businesses, including those fire departments who have fifty or more employees, could be forced to provide health care- something many can't afford to do.
"If we had to go out and pay for health care coverage for our volunteers, my budget would not be able to support that, and it would drastically impact the way we currently operate.” -Huntertown Fire Chief Mike Feely
The affordable care act goes into effect for Americans in just a few weeks and for businesses by 2015.

And that could put a squeeze on many of our local volunteer fire departments.

Current rules say businesses, including those fire departments who have fifty or more employees, could be forced to provide health care- something many can't afford to do.

Many of our area fire departments rely heavily on volunteer fire fighters.

Like here in Huntertown, they've got forty-eight.

And fire departments like these could be affected by the affordable care act's provisions.

However, Senator Joe Donnelly is hoping to fix that by supporting an amendment that would make a lot of these volunteer fire departments free of that provision.

"If we had to go out and pay for health care coverage for our volunteers, my budget would not be able to support that, and it would drastically impact the way we currently operate,” says Huntertown Fire Chief Mike Feely.

Feely says they can't afford to do that.

He says it could discourage people from volunteering, or could force his station to cut them.

"With volunteers, we always want to be able to respond to the community. I still think people would want to respond, they would just be a financial obligation by township or the department to pay for their health care benefits, even though they're not full-time employees,” Feely says.

On Wednesday, Senator Joe Donnelly pledged his support for the 'Protect Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act'- a bill that would allow volunteer service workers to not be counted as full-time equivalents.

Meaning places like fire departments would not have to provide- and pay for- health insurance.

"I know that we do not want to discourage volunteering at all, because the communities need it, that staff volunteer fire fighters,” Feely says.

We'll keep track of the bill, and as the Senate votes, we'll keep you updated.

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