With the national momentum and the 125,000 signatures gained on the petition, President Barack Obama’s granted seasonal wildland firefighters the opportunity to opt into federal health insurance plans.
In 2008 Nathan Ochs, a seasonal firefighter, and his wife delivered a premature baby boy leaving them with hospital bills over $70,000. Though the hospital pardoned most of their expenses they were still left with a significant amount to cover.
Ochs is one of the 8,000 seasonal firefighters who are uninsured because federal personnel guidelines do not allow seasonal/temporary employees to buy into federal health insurance plans, despite the many health risks that the job entails. Frustrated with a massive health bill, Ochs and colleague John Lauer created a petition in order to raise awareness on Change.org.
In just two-and-a-half short months the petition gained 125,000 signatures containing support from seasonal firefighters nationwide. As the momentum continued to intensify, White House officials issued a statement to the Denver Post on July 10, stating President Obama’s decision to make federal health insurance available. Though President Obama hasn’t formally released a statement, it was mentioned that the federal health insurance will be available to temporary firefighters as early as the end of this month.
White House officials explained the president worked diligently with the Office of Personnel Management, and the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior, both of which are responsible for hiring the majority of firefighters to make the federal health insurance plans accessible.
Prior to this approval, seasonal workers were only covered by workers compensation if they were hurt on the job and did not cover health issues that arose during the offseason.
According to the National Federation of Federal Employees, it is estimated the newly added seasonal firefighters may cost the government about $17.5 million a year to pay their share of premiums.
Wife of Ochs, Constance Van Kley told AP, “It makes me feel really hopeful that you can look at a problem, see a problem, and get this kind of response in this amount of time, we feel really heartened to know that people care about the work that firefighters do."