The Denver Post today reported that the White House has decided to allow seasonal federal firefighters to purchase the same health insurance as other federal employees, almost a month after one firefighter’s online petition for benefits went viral.
Most federal employees get health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan. But more than 8,000 seasonal federal firefighters aren’t eligible for FEHBP because they usually work less than six months each year. U.S. Forest Service firefighter John Lauer started an online petition in late May after his friend and fellow firefighter’s son was born prematurely. Because Lauer’s friend had no health insurance, he had to spend $70,000 on his son’s treatments.
The National Federation of Federal Employees heard about Lauer’s petition and began promoting it in mid-June. It soon gathered more than 100,000 signatures and NFFE began talking to the Office of Personnel Management about the problem.
And according to the Denver Post:
On a 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.
Administration officials told the Post that OPM will extend the health benefits to firefighters by the end of July.
NFFE just issued a statement lauding the decision.
“No longer do our firefighters have to fear incurring thousands in medical bills if they are injured outside of the job, or if their child gets sick,” NFFE National President William Dougan said. “These brave individuals put their lives on the line every year to protect our homes and communities. I could not be more proud that this new policy returns the favor by giving them the protection they need.”
An online petition to extend federal health care benefits to seasonal wildland firefighters is spreading like … well … wildfire.
John Lauer, a temporary firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, and thousands of his colleagues aren’t eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan because they only work for the government six months out of each year. But those six months are extremely busy — Lauer and other firefighters usually work 16-hour shifts each day — and dangerous.
And when medical misfortune strikes a firefighter’s family, it can be devastating. Lauer said his godson Rudy — the son of a friend and fellow firefighter — was born prematurely. Because Lauer’s friend didn’t have FEHBP health insurance, Rudy’s treatments cost $70,000.
Lauer had enough. He started an online petition on change.org in late May, hoping to get 100,000 signatures and send it to President Obama. The National Federation of Federal Employees, of which Lauer is a member, said it gathered about 700 signatures over the next couple of weeks. On June 13, NFFE heard about the petition and began pushing it to its Forest Service bargaining unit employees.
Interest in the petition exploded. By Friday morning, it crossed the 10,000-signature mark. At the time of this blog’s publication, it had nearly 45,000 signatures.
“I couldn’t stand by quietly anymore and watch my godson’s parents suffer without health insurance,” Lauer said in a NFFE news release. “Stories like this are a dime a dozen for seasonal firefighters. These are some of the bravest, most dedicated people I have ever met. They deserve insurance.”
NFFE said Lauer is currently fighting a fire in Colorado and was unavailable for comment. NFFE said the Forest Service hires between 5,000 and 10,000 seasonal wildland firefighters each year.