Congress Holds Hearing on Expanding Medicare to Retired Fire Fighters

December 12 • 2019

This week, the House of Representatives held a hearing to discuss the merits of expanding Medicare to retired public safety officers. The hearing included direct testimony from Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) on HR 4527, the Expanding Health Care Options for Early Retirees Act. This bill, a first of its kind, would provide the choice to retired public safety workers, beginning at age 50, to buy into Medicare.

General President Harold Schaitberger applauded Congress for taking the first steps to address the serious issue of inadequate retiree healthcare for public safety workers. “Every day, fire fighters put their health and safety on the line in order to serve and protect their communities. We owe it to them to recognize their service and sacrifice by providing needed quality healthcare options,” he says.

Malinowski spoke passionately about the need for HR 4527 and the benefits it would provide to thousands of retired first responders. The hearing highlighted that fire fighters often retire well before Medicare eligibility age, due to the physical and mental impacts that workers must face throughout their career. Once retired, these men and women often have few healthcare coverage options that adequately meet their unique needs. Without direct coverage from a former employer, a benefit that is quickly disappearing, a retiree is faced with two options: search out coverage on the federal or state exchange or try their luck in the private insurance marketplace. As healthcare costs continue to rise, along with premiums and coinsurance, these options simply do not provide enough quality choice for workers who must wait years to become Medicare eligible.

Malinowski provided personal testimony from first responders around the country that emphasized their struggle to find affordable insurance after retirement. Underlining the much-needed importance of the bill and the work that public safety workers provide, he stressed, “We need to protect those that that work to protect us every day.”

HR 4527, sponsored by Representatives Malinowski and Harley Rouda (D-CA), is a vital piece of legislation in the effort to help protect retired public safety workers, and the IAFF will continue to advocate for action as the bill moves through Congress. A Senate companion bill, S 2552, with the same name has been introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH).