Representative Malinowski Reintroduces Legislation Allowing Retired First Responders to Buy into Medicare at 50

June 24, 2021
Press Release

(Washington, DC) Today, Congressman Tom Malinowski (NJ-7) reintroduced the Expanding Health Care Options for Early Retirees Act, a bill to allow retired first responders—including police officers, firefighters, and EMS personnel—to buy into Medicare beginning at age 50. He was joined by original cosponsors Andy Kim (NJ-3), Albio Sires (NJ-8), and Salud Carbajal (CA-24). Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio introduced the companion measure in the Senate.

First responders often retire earlier than other workers and can experience gaps in coverage until they become eligible for Medicare at 65. This legislation ensures that retired first responders who are 50 and older will have access to affordable, comprehensive health insurance—regardless of whether their pension plan provides for coverage upon retirement.

Coverage provided under this bill would be identical to the coverage provided under the existing Medicare program. Retirees would be eligible for tax credits, subsidies, and tax-advantaged contributions from their former employer or pension plan. Further, this bill specifically requires that it be implemented in such a way that it will not negatively impact the existing Medicare program, beneficiaries, or trust fund.

The bill has been endorsed by the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey (PFANJ), the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association (NJFMBA), the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), the National Troopers Coalition (NTC), the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA), the National Conference on Public Employee Retirement Systems (NCPERS), and the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund.

“First responders always come when we need them, and they have stepped up in truly heroic ways throughout the course of the pandemic,” said Congressman Malinowski, a member of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus and the Congressional Law Enforcement Caucus. “This bill would ensure that when first responders retire, they have access to the quality, reliable health coverage they have earned and deserve.”

“Ohio firefighters and other first-responders wear their bodies out protecting our families and communities, and they should have access to affordable health care when their service comes to an end,” said Senator Brown. “This is a simple solution for first responders who are forced to retire but aren’t yet eligible for Medicare.”

“As early retirees, too many fire fighters and emergency medical personnel lack affordable healthcare before reaching the age for Medicare eligibility,” said Edward Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “As healthcare costs steadily increase, finding quality healthcare options during these gap years can be a real hardship. On behalf of the 324,000 members of the International Association of Fire Fighters, I am proud to support the Expanding Health Care Options for Early Retirees Act to allow fire fighters and EMS personnel the right to buy into Medicare at age 50, and thank Representative Malinowski for its introduction. I urge its passing as this bill will close the healthcare gap facing our retirees and provide certainty and peace of mind for our members - allowing them to enjoy the dignified retirement that they earned.”

“We believe this legislation addresses a very real and critical need for the men and women who served their communities as public safety officers by providing them with a bridge of coverage following their retirement until they reach the age of 65,” said Pat Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police.

“The Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey supports the Expanding Health Care Options for Early Retirees Act to allow firefighters and EMS personnel to buy into Medicare at age 50,” said Steve McConlogue, President of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey. “Our members spend their entire career putting their lives on the line to help others at the expense of their own health and wellbeing.  It has been proven repeatedly that firefighters and EMS professionals work in dangerous and demanding conditions day in and day out, taking a serious toll on their physical and mental health. Having seamless access to quality and affordable healthcare upon retirement is not only desirable to our members, it is absolutely necessary. The PFANJ along with the IAFF are honored to stand with Congressman Malinowski on this essential legislation, and we are proud to support those who have our backs.”

“Firefighters and other first responders serve selflessly to protect our communities,” said Eddie Donnelly, President of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association. “They are our neighbors and our friends who, every day, go beyond the call of duty to keep us safe. The Expanding Health Care Options for Early Retirees Act will ensure that these men and women who put themselves in harm’s way will have access to quality and affordable health insurance coverage upon retiring.”

Since first introducing the bill in 2019, Congressman Malinowski’s office has received dozens of phone calls and emails from first responders throughout the country describing how the bill would help them or their family members. Some examples are included below, and his testimony before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health highlighting these stories can be viewed here.

  • A first responder from Tennessee wrote: “This is such a needed law. More and more agencies are washing their hands of insuring first responders when they retire. It is not a young person's job, and when we retire we are damaged physically and emotionally and need the health care that eats up most of our pension.”
  • A paramedic from Florida wrote: “Healthcare has been my major concern after retirement. I’ve had numerous injuries on the job and have been exposed to more than my fair share of bad inhaled substances. I pray for all of you working on this proposed bill. God Bless you all.”
  • A firefighter paramedic from Oregon wrote: “I was born to be a [firefighter] paramedic in the community I was born and raised in. You naturally never think about your body wearing out…My neck, shoulders and elbows are tired. I’m retiring… it would be very helpful being eligible for Medicare Benefits. It is extremely difficult to admit my body cannot take working in the fire service any longer.”