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Seasonal firefighters to become eligible for Federal Employee Health Benefits Program

Seasonal firefighters to become eligible for Federal Employee Health Benefits Program

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama last week directed several agencies within his administration to offer health insurance to thousands of seasonal firefighters, a White House official confirmed on Friday.

Seasonal firefighters, which the federal government typically hires for six to seven months annually to assist local responders battling wildfires, previously did not qualify for federal health care coverage under existing provisions of the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program.

According to federal officials, the president was motivated to order the Office of Personnel Management, the Interior Department and the Agriculture Department to change those policies by a recent visit to Colorado, where wildfires have burned hundreds of thousands of acres and destroyed dozens of homes.

"Federal firefighters are putting their lives at risk every day across the country,” OPM Director John Berry said in a statement on Friday. “When the president returned from his trip to Colorado, he directed us to solve the problem of extending access to the FEHBP for those firefighters, and I believe we have a solution.”

Approximately 8,000 seasonal firefighters are employed by the federal government and will become eligible for health care this month, a spokesman for the White House said.

More than 126,000 people signed an online petition urging the president to include temporary firefighters in the government's employee health care program, said John Lauer, a member of a South Dakota “hotshot crew” of seasonal firefighters.

“The significance of this cannot be overstated,” Mr. Lauer said in an online video thanking those who signed the petition. “With this effort, thousands of firefighters will bed down tonight exhausted but unburdened, knowing that the health of their families and their own will be fairly accounted for.”