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Draft Legislation Released to Protect Coal Miners’ Health Benefits

ed flagFRANKFORT, Ky. (6/4/13) – U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (KY-01), Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, has released a discussion draft of legislation that would ensure continued health care coverage for miners in danger of losing their benefits resulting from the bankruptcy of Patriot Coal Company. A discussion draft serves as an informal starting point for introducing a bill in the House of Representatives.
 
“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 am considering legislative options 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.”
 
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).
 
Since it is expected that the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) will appeal the court’s ruling, there is uncertainty regarding the solvency and availability of the VEBA. 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.
 
Whitfield acknowledges that there are challenges with retirees’ pensions, but the most immediate concern is the availability of heath 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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