Retired Coal Miners' Health Benefit Funds:

Financial Challenges Continue

GAO-02-243: Published: Apr 18, 2002. Publicly Released: May 20, 2002.

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More than 100,000 retired coal miners and their spouses and dependents in 1992 faced a potential decrease in their employment-related health insurance coverage or loss of such coverage altogether. Some former employers had stopped mining coal or gone out of business and were no longer contributing to the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) retiree benefit funds. To ensure that these individuals would continue to receive the health benefits specified in previous collective bargaining agreements reached with coal companies, often gained in exchange for lower pensions, Congress enacted the Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act of 1992 (Coal Act). The Coal Act replaced the existing UMWA benefit funds with the Combined Benefit Fund (CBF) and the 1992 Benefit Plan. These funds' benefits requires less cost sharing by beneficiaries and provides more extensive coverage than benefit packages offered by the major manufacturing companies and companies with unionized workforces. However, the extent of coverage is generally comparable. The cost of health care for the funds' beneficiaries in 1999 was about 29 percent higher than for demographically similar Medicare beneficiaries with employer-sponsored insurance. The funds' officials have attempted to control costs largely through approaches that do not reduce or limit the benefits for beneficiaries, do not increase beneficiary cost-sharing requirements, or that have a minimal impact on beneficiaries.

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