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IAFF Local President Takes Fight to Capitol Hill to Protect Health Benefits

November 7, 2011 -- Prince George's County, MD Local 1619 President Andrew Pantelis joined key lawmakers in Congress November 5 in opposition to any effort to tax employer-provided health benefits. Speaking near the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Lieutenant Pantelis of the Prince George’s County Fire and EMS Department was joined by Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT) and Tom Cole (R-OK). The two lawmakers from opposing parties have sent a bipartisan letter signed by 160 members of Congress to the powerful “Super Committee,” which is tasked to come up with up to $1.5 trillion in savings to the federal budget.

One possible option for the Super Committee is to tax employer-provided health benefits. Currently, all health benefits employees receive are excluded from taxable income. Many academics and policymakers support taxing health benefits as a way to reduce the federal deficit. However, removing the exclusion would amount to a dramatic new tax increase on American workers. Fire fighters would be particularly hard hit.

According to Pantelis, “Whether it’s the immediate danger of a burning building or the long-term risks from prolonged exposures to toxic chemicals, fire fighters routinely face sky high insurance premiums. Taxing our health benefits will mean that our guys - along with cops, coalminers, steelworkers and other Americans in dangerous jobs - will get taxed the most. Not only is this policy unfair, it will make it harder to attract new recruits if they know they are going to be taxed heavily on a health insurance plan they simply cannot go without.”

Representative Courtney emphasized that high health insurance premiums are not a result of overly generous benefit packages. "There are academics who believe that this is a good way to change the system," Courtney said. "They're not focusing on how this tax would actually be implemented and how premiums are actually calculated." He added that factors such as age, workplace risk and geography all have a greater weight on premiums.

Representative Tom Cole pointed out the political realities that their bipartisan letter presents to the Super Committee. Regardless of how many academics favor the new tax, a strong, bipartisan group of members would oppose it. "I hope the strong bipartisan expression of this letter will encourage the Super Committee not to go where they shouldn't go,” said Cole.

The Super Committee has until November 23, 2011, to produce a bill. The IAFF will be closely monitoring its work to ensure that IAFF members will not face a new tax on their health benefits.


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