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By Cleve Bryan

STONE HARBOR, N.J. (CBS) – Unless clarified by the IRS or amended by Congress, the Affordable Care Act could shut down volunteer fire departments through out the country including the 60-member company in Stone Harbor.

Mike Donohue is a lawyer who recently let local fire chiefs know that a provision of the Affordable Care Act may require departments of 50 firefighters or more to pay health insurance to their volunteers.

“The reason that local elected officials should be concerned is they may be facing huge costs to their volunteer companies that they simply couldn’t cover.”

At 20 to 30 thousand dollars a pop to provide their volunteers insurance, the Stone Harbor fire company would be on the hook for more than a million dollars.

Chief Roger Stanford, of Stone Harbor volunteer fire company says,”We’re funded through donations through our town people and obviously we can’t raise a million dollars for healthcare so we’d have to look at other options.”

Back in September, national firefighter groups got involved pressuring the IRS to interpret the Affordable Care Act to make sure volunteer fire companies are exempt from the employer mandate.

So far, it’s radio silence.

With the word “volunteer” right in the name it’s understood that volunteer firefighters don’t get paid but because some departments offer stipends that’s where the employment status gets confusing, and that’s where firefighters are looking for clarification from the IRS.

Right now some experts interpret the law to read that if a volunteer works 30 hours in a week for a department with 50 or more firefighters those volunteers are considered a full-time employees and eligible for healthcare insurance under the ACA employer mandate.

Donohue says, “I’m hoping the IRS does the right thing and makes the right choice and classifies us not as employees so that we don’t have to pay the healthcare.”

This week, several members of Congress announced a bill that would amend the ACA to make sure volunteer first responders aren’t included in the employer mandate.

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