Retired coal miners face financial challenges without health insurance

SALINE COUNTY (WSIL) — A coal mining accident forced Harrisburg resident John Ward to retire in 2010. It broke his pelvis in six different places causing him to walk with a limp. Since then, Peabody Energy has covered his health insurance costs. But after December 31, that won’t be the […]

SALINE COUNTY (WSIL) — A coal mining accident forced Harrisburg resident John Ward to retire in 2010. It broke his pelvis in six different places causing him to walk with a limp.

Since then, Peabody Energy has covered his health insurance costs. But after December 31, that won’t be the case.

“It kind of hurts a little bit when you’re being guaranteed to have [health insurance] in the past and all of a sudden you don’t have it?,” Ward said. “I don’t think it’s right.”

The company is discontinuing paying health insurance benefits for retirees over 65 years old, according to a letter from the company dated September 28.

Peabody said the pandemic prompted changes to improve the company’s financial future. The letter said spending on retiree medical benefits is ‘not sustainable’.

“Peabody’s doing a win-win thing and we’re doing a lose-lose thing,” Ward said. The Harrisburg resident believes he’ll have to spend about $3,000 to treat his COPD.

Another retired coal miner, Carrier Mills resident Robert Hill, is facing a steeper financial mountain to climb once the year is up.

Hill, a diabetic who’s had two heart surgeries, says he’ll have to pay $8,000 out-of-pocket to cover health expenses. Collecting social security and working part-time as a school custodian, he says, won’t be enough.

“You’ve got car insurance, you’ve got light bills,” Hill said. “I’ll make it I guess. It’ll be tough. It’ll be tough.”

Both men plan to pursue legal action against Peabody in hopes of getting what they earned.

“I’m not asking for nothing that I don’t think I deserve,” Hill said. “They promised that to us… I think we ought to get it.”

Peabody responded to inquiries from News 3, saying that it regrets not being able to maintain its existing retiree healthcare program.

The company plans to save those funds for retirees and spouses ‘who are not yet 65 and Medicare eligible’.

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