43-year-old Jason Kenneth Matthews of Bluefield, Virginia lost his life Monday, February 27th at Southern Coal’s Bishop Prep Plant in McDowell County. Matthews worked as a plant floor man, and according to a company spokesman, fell to his death just before 10:30 p.m. His is the second coal mining related fatality of 2017 in the US. Southern Coal is owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. Justice released a statement on the mining accident: (quote) “Tragic accidents like this just break all of our hearts and our state is grateful to have a close-knit mining community that steps up on these most difficult days.” (end quote) WMMT would like to send our condolences to Matthews’s family, friends, and co-workers.
Affordable Care Act & Miners’ Health (Ohio Valley ReSource)
INTRO: Retired coal miners say their health care options face a one-two punch that could leave many of them in the lurch. A repeal of Obamacare and the expiration of miner’s health protections could make it hard for any coal retiree to get health care. Becca Schimmel has more.
BS: Ohio Valley retirees have been meeting one-on-one with congressional leaders to talk about the risks to their benefits. Some provisions of the Affordable Care Act are especially important to miners. The so-called Byrd Amendment deals with benefits for miners suffering from black lung, and miners hope it will be restored if the Act is repealed. Miners are also concerned about the Act’s pre-existing condition provision. United Mine Workers communications director Phil Smith says the nature of the work makes every retired miner a “walking basket” of pre-existing conditions.
PS: “If they don’t have the health care that they were promised and the miner’s protection act doesn’t pass, and the ACA is out the window then nobody’s going to insure them.”
BS: Smith says the union hopes the miner’s protection act might pass before the end of April, when more than 22,000 miners, widows and beneficiaries could lose their health and pension benefits. Without those guarantees, miners might have to look for health insurance, and many of them have higher rates of cancer, heart disease and musculoskeletal injuries that make insurance harder to get. Smith worries miners won’t be able to afford care. If those retirees wait until they are seriously ill and then seek care at emergency rooms, as many uninsured patients do, rates for those that are insured could go up.
PS: “These are people that don’t have a whole lot of money to start with, exist on a small pension and small social security check.”
BS: Uncompensated care spending–which is the cost of caring for the uninsured–has gone down since the ACA took effect. With small pensions of about $500 a month miners will have to make some tough decisions of what to pay for. For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Becca Schimmel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
NAS ON MTR EFFECTS
ANCHOR: A committee with National Academy of Sciences has started work on a study of the health effects of surface mining in central Appalachia. The eleven-member panel gathered yesterday (Tuesday) in Washington, D.C., to hear about earlier research on how mining affects nearby residents. Bill Orem [OAR-um] of the US Geological Survey was among those who addressed the committee. He led a USGS study on the health effects of mountaintop removal mining that began in 2009, but was defunded in 2012 before it could be completed.
Bill Orem [0:16]: Some of the health effects— numerous types of respiratory disease, water quality is another potential impact, things like arsenic and selenium. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to complete that study so it’s just very preliminary data.
ANCHOR: The committee will look at surface mining in four states— Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. The study is slated for release in early 2018. A similar study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is currently under review for publication in a scientific journal.
The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email [email protected]