|By Kent Jackson, The Citizens' Voice, Wilkes-Barre, Pa.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
A total of 410 representatives voted for the bill that exempts volunteer fire companies from the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act while 20 House members were absent for the vote.
The act, dubbed Obamacare, requires companies with 50 or more employees to insure employees or pay fines, and the
Barletta realized that many fire companies couldn't afford to buy health insurance for their volunteers.
"This would close firehouses around the country. They're doing fundraising for basic gear and equipment," he said before the debate about the bill began.
He learned about the problem that the Affordable Care Act presented to volunteer fire companies while talking to a firefighter before the start of a parade in
While they waited for the parade, firefighter
While Timko serves on a fire company that has a budget of approximately
"I'm blessed to be on the
After speaking with Timko at the parade, Barletta did some research, learned that Timko was right and wrote to the
Neither letter drew a reply at first so Barletta began drafting a bill to exempt volunteer fire companies from the provision of Obamacare.
As colleagues asked to become co-sponsors, Barletta, who previously passed bills to name a post office and to reduce rates on government loans to victims of disasters, realized the firefighters' bill had support.
He widened that support by writing letters to colleagues and pointing out that nationally 86 percent of fire companies depend on volunteers. The percentage is higher, at 94 percent, in
Barletta applauded the regulations but persisted in trying to pass his bill.
"It's too much of a public safety issue to be left to federal bureaucrats," he said on the House floor during the debate.
The bill needed extra support, Barletta said, because Republican leadership in the House has hesitated to bring any bill altering Obamacare to a vote.
Members of the
On Tuesday, Democrats such as U.S. Rep.
Levin said 70 percent of the firefighters in the nation are volunteers, and they provide services worth more than
"It's important for the congress to join the administration in recognizing that first responders are absolutely critical to safety of the country," Levin said.
Without the change solidified by the bill, Pennsylvania Rep.