Health Care

Congress extends healthcare for retired coal miners and their families.

Jon Perri
May 5, 2017

As part of the $1.1 trillion spending bill just passed by Congress, Congressional leaders have reached a deal to extend healthcare for over 22,600 retired coal miners and their families who were set to lose these benefits at the end of April. These miners, who in many cases worked for decades in dangerous conditions, were promised these benefits by coal companies and Congress — when coal companies declared bankruptcy, they stopped contributing to their workers healthcare funds.

The deal provides a permanent, $1.3 billion extension of healthcare benefits. In  press release issued yesterday, the United Mine Workers of America explained:

“The legislation, which was part of the Miners Protection Act, will incorporate into the 1993 Benefit Plan those beneficiaries who had lost health care coverage as a result of recent bankruptcies and closures of coal companies. These miners will be treated the same as beneficiaries under the Coal Act which provides that solvent coal companies must be responsible for their own retirees but when companies fail the government will step in to assist in providing retirement benefits.”

John Leach, a retired miner who needs these benefits for himself and his family, worked for Peabody Energy for 23 years in Kentucky coal mines. He and his wife have three children, and all have been diagnosed with the rage genetic disease Friedreich’s Ataxia, which his oldest child passed away from several years ago. 

John decided to launch a petition on Change.org asking Congress to keep the promise made to families like his and within two weeks, over 54,000 people had signed.

I worked for Peabody Coal for 21 years as a miner. My primary motivation for taking a mining job was the good family health insurance negotiated by my union, the United Mine Workers (UMWA) and the promise of health insurance and a pension upon retirement. But the health benefits for my family and over 22,000 retired coal miners and their families are scheduled for termination on April 28.

We are in this mess because Peabody and other coal companies have used loopholes in our bankruptcy laws to throw away benefit obligations to retirees, like old clothes taken out with the trash.”

The fight to maintain healthcare for coal workers has been going on for years. Much of the work has been spearheaded by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and United Mine Workers of America, the union John Leach belongs to, in trying to pass the Miner Protection Act.

For years I have been working side-by-side with the United Mine Workers of America and West Virginia coal miners to keep the promise we made that these patriotic workers would never go without the healthcare they earned,” Senator Manchin said. “Today, I am thrilled to announce that Congress finally agreed to pass a permanent healthcare solution in honor of their hard work and dedication to this great nation.”

PBS Newshour recently put together an informative piece on this issue. If you’re interested in learning more about the health dangers that coal mining has brought to thousands of workers and the healthcare battles these workers have faced, I encourage watching the video below:

Jon Perri is Associate Campaigns Director at Change.org. You can follow him on Twitter @_jonperri