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Health law leaves volunteer firefighting in limbo

By Alanna Durkin

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Jan. 5 2014 11:27 a.m. MST

In this Dec. 20, 2013 photo, Fire Chief Darrel Fournier speaks to a reporter in Freeport, Maine. Fire chiefs and lawmakers are working to protect the system of volunteer firefighting that has served rural America for more than a century but is threatened by an ambiguity in President Barack Obama’s health care law. The volunteers are considered employees for tax purposes, leaving open the question of whether they fall under the health care law’s requirement that employers with more than 50 workers provide insurance for them.

Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

FREEPORT, Maine — Fire chiefs and lawmakers are working to protect the system of volunteer firefighting that has served rural America for more than a century but is threatened by an ambiguity in the federal health overhaul.

Volunteer firefighters are considered employees for tax purposes because they're often offered such incentives as stipends, retirement benefits and gym memberships.

That leaves open the question of whether they'll fall under the health care law's requirement that employers with 50 or more employees working at least 30 hours a week must provide health insurance for them.

Small-town fire chiefs say they can't afford to pay for health insurance for volunteers.

But others say it's too early to ring the alarm. The federal government is expected to release its regulations this year that could answer the question.

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