A firefighter team from California looks for hot spots in a burnt-out area in Colorado Springs, Colo., on June 29, in the wake of the Waldo Canyon wildfire. President Obama has ordered the federal government to extend health insurance coverage to its seasonal wildland firefighters. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
President Obama has ordered the federal government to extend health insurance coverage to its seasonal wildland firefighters this month.
The Office of Personnel Management confirmed to Federal Times that seasonal firefighters will soon be covered under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP).
“Federal firefighters are putting their lives at risk every day across the country,” OPM Director John Berry said in a statement. “When the President returned from his trip to Colorado, he directed us to solve the problem of extending access to the FEHBP for those firefighters, and I believe we have a solution.”
Thousands of federal firefighters aren’t eligible for FEHBP because they work fewer than six months a year. Forest Service firefighter John Lauer started an online petition in late May after a 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, which represents firefighters, began promoting Lauer’s petition in mid-June. It quickly gathered more than 100,000 signatures and national media attention, and NFFE began talking to OPM about the problem.
Berry said OPM will provide additional details on granting FEHBP coverage to firefighters by the end of July.
Lauer updated his online petition Tuesday to thank its more than 126,000 signers.
“I speak on behalf of my own crew when I say that everybody is extremely grateful for their support,” Lauer said. “This is going to make a real improvement in the lives of thousands of people and their families.”
NFFE National President William Dougan also applauded 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,” 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.”