Obama directs that wildland firefighters get health insurance

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DENVER — The men and women fighting wildfires in Colorado and across the country this summer could soon be eligible to purchase federal health insurance, following a directive from President Barack Obama to be issued this month.

Most of the wildland firefighters are not full-time U.S. Forest Service employees and, as such, have not been eligible to purchase federal healthcare plans.

The White House, which leaked news of the directive to the Denver Post just as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney visited with volunteers aiding victims of the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs, is hoping a directive from the Office of Personnel Management will give firefighters the option to buy federal health insurance by the end of July.

Almost in unison, Democratic members of Colorado’s Congressional delegation heralded the proposal, inundating reporters with emailed press releases lauding the idea.

“It’s unconscionable that thousands of brave firefighters working countless hours to save our homes and communities do not have health insurance for themselves or their families,” said Congresswoman Diana DeGette, D-Denver, who introduced the legislation to change this policy. “Anyone brave enough to lay their life on the line to protect our homes and our beloved state, should have the peace of mind that their health and the health of their families is secured.”

Congressman Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, chimed in with his own statement, echoing DeGette’s and praising the bravery of firefighters.

“Many of the firefighters in Colorado work on contract and part time with the federal government to protect our forests, communities and families,” Perlmutter said. “Every year, they stand strong in unimaginable conditions and risk their own lives to protect and save our lives and property.  Ensuring these brave first responders have access to quality, affordable medical care is the right thing to do and is essential to our safety.”

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