U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown: A bipartisan effort to help first responders afford health care

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 30, 2022

While the rest of us run from danger, firefighters and police officers and other first responders run toward it. That work often comes at a cost to their health. Ohio firefighters and other first responders wear their bodies out protecting our families and communities.

These public servants are often forced to retire early, before becoming eligible for Medicare, because of the physical toll that their jobs take on them. That can leave them unable to afford health insurance without withdrawing from their retirement accounts. Yet, as many Ohioans know, withdrawing money from retirement early often comes with a tax penalty.

First responders shouldn’t have to worry about being penalized for withdrawing from retirement that they’ve earned to pay for health insurance.

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

We already have a law on the books that is supposed to protect firefighters and cops from those penalties, but a convoluted system of implementation prevents many first responders from actually being able to use it. Right now, the public pension system must pay the health or long-term care insurance company directly. This leads to lots of complicated paperwork, and officers whose pensions are administered by third parties can’t take advantage of this tax break at all.

Our bill would allow retirees to take money directly out of their pensions to pay their health and long-term care insurance premiums, and justify the withdrawal on their tax return, the same way we do with any other tax break.

This bill has strong bipartisan support. We have two Democrats and two Republicans this effort in the Senate, and it’s also bipartisan in the House. At the end of last month, we were able to get this bill included in a package that advanced out of the Senate Finance Committee, which is a key first step in getting this passed.

This bill is a simple solution that allows cops 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 health care they deserve.

Sherrod Brown is a Democrat and the senior U.S. senator representing Ohio. His office can be reached at 212-224-2315.