Supreme Court Will Hear Case on Coal Miners’ Benefits
The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear a case involving a 1992 law that gave retired coal miners and their dependents health care benefits "from the coal industry, even if the companies they worked for went out of business," the New York Times reports (Greenhouse, New York Times, 4/24). The Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act was passed when workers' benefits -- negotiated "years earlier" -- became threatened as coal companies went out of business or hired nonunion employees (Greenberger, Wall Street Journal, 4/24). The law gave the commissioner of Social Security the authority to assign beneficiaries from a company that had shut down to a new employer, even if that employer did not operate a coal mine. The Times reports that the "legal dispute" in the case is what happens when no "related person" exists to distribute benefits. The government believes that the "responsibility passes to a successor company, one that never employed the miner but that is the direct descendant of the one that did" (New York Times, 4/24). However, the Kentucky-based Jericol Mining Inc., which between 1993 and 1996 was assigned 86 beneficiaries who had worked for its predecessor company, Shackleford Coal. Co., challenged the law, saying that "it wasn't required ... to assume the obligation" of the beneficiaries' benefits (Wall Street Journal, 4/24). The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Jericol, ruling that the law "did not authorize the government to require successor companies to assume the responsibility" (New York Times, 4/24).
Separately, Justice Anthony Kennedy "refused to intervene" in the case of a 37-year-old Florida woman whose husband has sought to have her feeding tube removed over the objections of her parents, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports. Since she suffered a heart attack in 1990, Terri Schiavo has been in a coma. Last year, attorneys for her husband Michael successfully argued in state circuit court that she is brain dead "and never wanted to be kept alive artificially" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/23). Terri's parents countered that she is responsive and that Michael was seeking a $700,000 trust fund he stands to receive after her death (Chachere, AP/South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 4/24). Kennedy's decision not to intervene "clear[s] the way" for Schiavo's breathing tube to be removed (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 4/23). An article in today's St. Petersburg Times examines how the "once-private disagreement" between Schiavo and his parents-in-law "erupted into a controversial right-to-die case that made national headlines" (Kumar, St. Petersburg Times, 4/24).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.