Jan. 13 (Bloomberg) — U.S. cities and towns won't be required to provide health insurance for volunteer firefighters, a reprieve from federal Obamacare rules that fire departments had said would be financially devastating.

Volunteer emergency workers will be made exempt from a requirement that employers with more than 50 workers provide health coverage to those putting in at least 30 hours a week, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a Jan. 10 blog post. That employer mandate, which takes effect in 2015, was part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

Volunteers make up about 69 percent of firefighters in the U.S., particularly in towns and sparsely populated counties with small tax bases, according to the National Volunteer Fire Council. Requiring municipalities to provide health care to volunteers may have forced some fire departments to close in rural areas, Jim Philipps, a spokesman for the National Association of Counties, said in an e-mail yesterday.

"This guidance strikes the appropriate balance in the treatment provided to traditional full-time emergency responder employees, bona fide volunteers, and to our nation's first responder units, many of which rely heavily on volunteers," Mark Mazur, the Treasury's assistant secretary for tax policy, said in the blog post.

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