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Retired Coal Miners at Risk of Losing Promised Health Coverage and Pensions

Without congressional intervention, about 16,000 retired miners in seven states will lose their health care coverage by the end of the year. A proposal to temporarily extend the benefits is working its way through Congress. But two Senate Democrats, who have long been advocates for a more comprehensive plan, say the temporary provision isn’t enough. They are threatening to hold up a spending bill that needs to pass by Friday night to keep the government running.

Coal mining is dangerous work. For many miners, a government-backed promise of lifelong health care for them and their dependents made the risk worth taking. In 1946, the United Mine Workers of America and the U.S. government agreed that union miners who put in 20 or more years would get lifelong pension and health benefits. Patriot is one of six major coal producers in the U.S. that has sought bankruptcy protection in the last few years, a process that often includes an attempt to drop retiree benefits. After the Patriot bankruptcy in 2012, the UMWA negotiated a $400 million payment in bankruptcy court for retirees’ benefits. Existing companies pay into a UMWA fund for retirees, but as those mines close, there is less money going into the pot and the number of retired miners who are drawing from it is increasing. The fund is about to run out of money. The UMWA’s hope was that the $400 million would give federal lawmakers the time they needed to pass legislation that would protect the miners.

Source/more: Kaiser Health News



David Wingate is an elder law attorney at the Elder Law Office of David Wingate, LLC. The elder law office services clients with powers of attorneys, living wills, Wills, Trusts, Medicaid and asset protection. The Elder Law office has locations in Frederick and Montgomery Counties, Maryland.

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