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Whitfield Introduces Bill to Protect Coal Miners’ Health Care Benefits

CCMGraphicFRANKFORT, Ky. (7/8/13) – U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (KY-01), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, today introduced the Caring for Coal Miners Act.  The legislation, co-sponsored by Rep. David McKinley (R – WV) and Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R – WV), ensures continued health care coverage for miners in danger of losing their benefits resulting from the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal Company.  

“It is critical that we protect the health care benefits of the thousands of Kentucky miners who have worked hard their entire careers to earn those benefits,” stated Whitfield.  “That is why I have introduced the Caring for Coal Miners Act to ensure that the hardworking miners who took to the mines day in and day out don’t lose the health care that they have rightfully earned.”

“I have met with retirees from West Virginia, and I hear their concerns,” said Congresswoman Capito.  “It is important that as we continue to address the complicated issues that resulted from the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal Company that we find the best solutions moving forward.   The Caring for Coal Miners Act ensures continued health care coverage for the retirees who are in danger of losing their benefits.  It is also an important step forward in protecting the benefits that were promised to hardworking miners in states like West Virginia and Kentucky.”  

According to Whitfield, the Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection that Patriot filed in July 2012 may impact the health care benefits of roughly 1,500 people and their families in Whitfield’s district.  They claim that they will not be able to emerge from bankruptcy without significant changes to retiree health care obligations.  As a result, a bankruptcy court recently ruled that Patriot Coal is authorized to transition retirees into a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA).

There is uncertainty regarding the solvency and availability of the VEBA due to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) recent appeal of the court’s ruling. Whitfield’s legislation addresses this issue by making miners in danger of losing their health care benefits due to Patriot Coal’s bankruptcy eligible for UMWA’s 1993 Benefit Plan.    

In early June, Whitfield introduced a discussion draft to begin the process of formally introducing the Caring for Coal Miners Act.  Whitfield acknowledges that there are challenges with retirees’ pensions, but the most immediate concern is the availability of health care benefits, which is why he is taking this immediate step.

“Protecting the health care benefits is just the first step in what may very well amount to a multifaceted process,” concluded Whitfield.
    
SurfKY News
Information provided by Chris Pack

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