Deal may be close to cover retired United Mine Workers’ health care

Congress may be close to a deal to extend health benefits for retired coal miners whose medical coverage is set to expire Sunday.

On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of House and Senate members said they were very optimistic that a deal was close to appropriate $1.3 billion over 10 years to cover more than 22,000 United Mine Workers of America retirees and surviving spouses who could lose health care promised in contracts with coal companies dating back to 1946.

Details on how Congress will meet budget agreement requirements to pay for the additional layout — either through tapping other coal-related funds or cutting elsewhere in the government — are still being worked out.

But, flanked by UMWA retirees or surviving spouses, coal-state lawmakers said they would not allow Congress to go home this weekend without a permanent deal to continue health-care benefits that are set to expire at the end of the month.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate had opposed what some had described as a bailout of past union-mining company agreements that over-promised health and pension benefits. Opponents said taxpayers should not be on the hook for those long-term promises. The shortfall has been exacerbated by the financial struggles of coal-mining companies like St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, which emerged earlier this month from bankruptcy reorganization.

Read more: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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