Coal Miners’ Healthcare At Risk

If Congress fails to intervene by the end of this month, over 20,000 retired miners could lose healthcare coverage that was provided through a fund established in 1946 by the U.S. government and United Mine Workers of America (UMWA). 

Democrats threatened a government shutdown over this issue at the end of 2016, and DC outlets report that tension over funding for miners could fuel another possible shutdown when Congress returns from recess next week.

Without a solution, 22,600 miners, dependents, and spouses, that were promised lifelong insurance could be stripped of these benefits by May 1st 2017.    

Coal companies that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy since 2012 were relieved from contributing to the fund, leaving today’s fund nearly empty. Over three dozen companies declared bankruptcy during that time period, including three of the four top coal producers in the country.

Up to 120,000 miners or spouses are also at risk of losing pensions in the next few years unless the fund receives a substantial infusion of money. Lawmakers like Sen. Joe Manchin (WV) hope to devise a permanent fix to both issues before the end of April.  

Coal mining is dangerous work. Miners are nearly four times as likely to incur fatal and severe injuries on the job than the average U.S. worker. A recent report shows that rates of black lung among miners may be 10 times higher than government estimates.

Between 1950 and up until this decade, coal was the largest source of energy for the U.S, consistently providing at least 40 percent of the nation’s energy mix. Miners took on the risks and responsibilities of keeping the country’s lights on with the understanding that they would be covered for the rest of their lives.