I was surprised to learn two weeks ago that federal firefighters, including many combating brutal wildfires in Colorado, are considered temporary employees who are ineligible for health care coverage through the Forest Service. They’re working incredibly dangerous jobs under life-threatening conditions, but many go without insurance.
President Obama is poised to change that. The Denver Post reported yesterday on a shift in administration policy.
President Barack Obama has directed federal officials to offer seasonal firefighters the option of purchasing federal health insurance coverage, White House officials told The Denver Post Tuesday.
On a recent trip to Colorado Springs, the president was apparently moved by the men and women firefighters he met, senior administration officials said in an interview Tuesday. When he returned to Washington, he told his cabinet that he wanted to “find a solution” for the hundreds of workers toiling in dangerous conditions without the option to buy in to federal insurance.
Some of the details are still coming together – it’s unclear how long the temporary firefighters, many of whom take other jobs during the winter, will qualify – but it appears to be a huge step forward. The administration’s Office of Personnel Management is expected to present the specifics within a week, though if I had to guess, I’d say the move will probably involve directing the Forest Service to reclassify temporary firefighters as permanent, thus expanding their benefits eligibility.
Whatever the mechanism, the access to health insurance for these firefighters will begin later this month. I suspect it’s highly unlikely Republicans will complain about “another Obama power grab” once the decision is made official, but I suppose one never knows for sure.