Double Disaster Relief in Colorado

Terrance Heath

High Park Fire

President Obama is visiting Colorado today, one day after the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. The state is the site of two major disasters. The first disaster is, of course, the wildfires now on record as the most destructive the state has ever seen. President Obama addressed that disaster today, when he declared a major disaster in the Colorado, and ordered federal funds to supplement state and local efforts to fight the wildfires, and help those affected by it.

After yesterdays Supreme Court victory, it turns out Obama’s bringing some relief for the other disaster in Colorado.

That is, if you think its a disaster that most of the firefighters battling the blazes in Colorado don’t have health insurance.

10th CE to the rescue Right now, wildfires of “epic proportions” are tearing through the Colorado forests.

Thousands of federal firefighters charged with taming the blazes do not have health insurance.

…Of all the jobs where you might want health insurance, firefighting near certainly ranks near the top of the list. Firefighters spend two-week shifts working 18 hour days in dangerous conditions. Some develop breathing problems due to smoke inhalation.

But many federal firefighters are temporary employees, who only work six months out of the year (although as Lauer describes it, they can often work a full year’s worth of hours with the long shifts). Under federal regulations, temporary employees of the Forest Service do not receive benefits.

That means no health care and no retirement pension.“A lot of them are not making a lot,” says Bill Dougan, president of the National Federal of Federal Employees. “The only way they can afford insurance is if they have a spouse that might be able to get coverage under an employer. In some places that’s not an option.”Dougan’s group represents all temporary federal firefighters; he estimates there are about 15,000 to 20,000 of them.

Good think the ACA survived the Supreme Court, because it can help with that disaster.

The Affordable Care Act-if it survives the Supreme Court Thursday-could help. It would guarantee access to health insurance for a firefighter who, for example, might have bronchitis. Many earn relatively low salaries, about $25,000 to $35,000 per year, meaning they would qualify for subsidies. If the law gets overturned, however, the firefighters stay in the same situation they’ve been in all along: Working a dangerous job and unable to afford coverage.

That’s double disaster relief, in my book.

 

 

 

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