Making it easier for first responders to afford medical care

While the rest of us run from danger, firefighters, police officers, and other first responders race toward it. This work is often at the expense of their health. Ohio firefighters and other first responders exhaust themselves in protecting our families and communities.

These public employees are often forced to take early retirement before they are eligible for Medicare because of the physical demands of their jobs. This can leave them unable to afford health insurance without withdrawing from their retirement accounts.

Yet, as many Ohioans know, withdrawing money early from retirement often comes with a tax penalty.

First responders shouldn’t have to worry about being penalized for taking the retirement they deserve to pay for health insurance.

That’s why I introduced the bipartisan Police and Fire Department Health Protection Act, which would cut red tape and give retired first responders the flexibility they need to be able to afford retirement health care.

We already have a law on the books designed to protect firefighters and police officers from these penalties, but a convoluted system of enforcement prevents many first responders from actually applying it.

Currently, the statutory pension insurance has to pay directly to the health or long-term care insurance. This leads to a lot of complicated paperwork, and civil servants whose pensions are managed by third parties cannot take advantage of this tax break at all.

Our bill would allow retirees to take money directly from their pension to pay their health and long-term care insurance premiums and justify the withdrawal on their tax returns, just like we do with any other tax benefit.

This bill has strong bipartisan support. We have two Democrats and two Republicans in the Senate, and it’s also bipartisan in the House of Representatives.

Late last month, we were able to include this bill in a package that emerged from the Senate Finance Committee, which is an important first step in making that happen.

This law is a simple fix that allows police officers and firefighters to keep their own money, and I’m committed to working with my colleagues to make it easier for these first responders to access the medical care they deserve.

Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) represents the state in the US Senate.

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