Since the continuing resolution passed in December with only a four-month “fix” for miners healthcare, I have continued the fight to get a permanent solution. That is why the first bill I re-introduced this year was the Miners Protection Act, to prevent the more than 900 retired miners in Wyoming County from losing the healthcare they have earned and deserve. And last week, I am proud to say that Congress passed a permanent solution to ensure retired miners keep their healthcare.
Seventy years ago, President Harry Truman recognized the importance of the coal that our miners produced for this country and promised that the government would guarantee our brave coal miners’ benefits in return for their service. In turn, our coal miners propelled the American economy, ushered in decades of economic growth, started an energy boom that made the U.S. a superpower, and helped our nation to victory in two World Wars. This agreement was a sacred promise between worker and country, and it captured the very best of America.
That’s why the Miners Protection Act has been my number one priority. So much so that, in my conversations with President Donald Trump and Vice President Pence, I have stressed the importance of a permanent solution for our retired miners and their widows’ healthcare. They assured me that they would help fight to secure a permanent health care solution for our retired miners and that they were committed to working with me to get this done.
We had no better advocates for securing a permanent healthcare fix than the retired miners themselves who took the time and the energy to come up to Washington D.C. to show my colleagues the real toll that years of work in the mines have had on them. They talked about how losing their healthcare benefits would affect them personally. For years they have walked the halls of Congress, met with representatives and staff, worked the phones and wrote letters urging us to keep the promise that was made to them. This week, we will fulfill that promise.
Throughout this process, I have talked with thousands of West Virginians who would be devastated if they lost their healthcare, and received letters from miners and their families about the fear and anxiety that comes with not knowing whether they will be able to go to the doctor or pay their bills. Philip R. Bowles from Wyoming County told me he was very concerned about the possible loss of insurance if the Miners Protection Act did not pass. He said, “I spent 22 years as a coal miner and was injured in a roof collapse. I was unable to go back to work due to this injury. Our income is solely from miners retirement and disability social security now. I have glaucoma and my wife has multiple medical issues. There is no way we could live or even survive if we lose our benefits. We need the government to honor their word and their promise to the men & women who have worked hard and suffered many injuries in order to keep the lights on…”
Because of this permanent healthcare fix, retirees like Philip won’t have to sacrifice their health care to pay the bills. Retirees suffering from black lung, who gave not only their years of service but also sacrificed their health, will not be forced to choose between paying their electric bill or getting that oxygen tank they rely on to breathe. Surviving widows will not be forced to choose between buying their blood pressure medicine or putting food on their tables.
Securing these healthcare benefits demonstrates what Congress can do when we work together and put partisan politics aside. It’s a philosophy that I have followed throughout my life in public service – in the West Virginia State Legislature, as your Governor, and now as I represent you as a U.S. Senator. Members of Congress are here for one reason: to do what is right on behalf of the people we represent. West Virginia coal miners are among the hardest working people in America, and they have dedicated their lives to powering this nation and keeping it the strongest in the world. While we have more work to do to protect the pensions these miners earned, thanks to this fix, they will never again have to worry about their healthcare.
Joe Manchin, a Democrat, is a U.S. Senator representing West Virginia.