WASHINGTON - Rep. Lou Barletta, PA-11, led a group of his colleagues to promote and support H.R. 3685, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act in the House of Representatives Friday.

The legislation aims to protect volunteer firefighters from unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a press release from Barletta. The bill has more than 80 cosponsors, including members of both parties.

"An unexpected and previously undetected problem with the law represents special and urgent circumstances," Barletta said on the House floor. "This really took me by surprise - the fact that the ACA could force volunteer fire companies to provide health insurance to their volunteers or pay a fine. That would burden them with unbearable costs and possibly cause them to reduce the number of volunteers they have or shut their doors altogether. Simply put: This is a public safety issue."

Barletta has been concerned that since the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) currently views volunteer firefighters as employees, fire companies and municipalities would be forced to provide health insurance or pay a fine, saddling them with unbearable financial burdens and threatening public safety. Barletta sent the IRS a letter in November requesting clarification, but has received no response.

Under the Employer Mandate Provision, employers with 50 or more employees must provide health insurance or pay penalties, which could be problematic for fire companies, particularly in Pennsylvania, where 97 percent of stations rely exclusively or mostly on volunteers. Fire companies could exceed the 50 employee threshold in several different ways: by themselves based on their size, by being part of a larger combined force under several different chiefs, or by being part of a municipality that has 50 or more public employees in total.