Justice Coal Company Retirees Struggle With Another Discontinuation of Prescription Drug Coverage | Energy and Environment
Cathy Mullens knows that tomorrow is not promised to her husband, Pinkey, especially since his diagnosis of leukemia four years ago.
She just wants him to have the prescription drug coverage Governor Jim Justice’s coal companies promised him.
“He’s already done his job,” Cathy said Friday night of Pinkey, who looks back 15 years on a three-decade career in coal during which he persevered through 16-hour shifts and an accident that broke his ribs. “Let him live in peace for as long as he has left. That’s all I ask.
But Cathy’s attention has often been diverted lately from her remaining time with Pinkey to simply providing the Bluestone Coal Corp retiree. medications needed to lengthen this time as much as possible.
Pinkey is out of metoprolol, which he takes to keep his blood pressure from fluctuating, as well as pravastatin, a cholesterol-lowering drug, and Protonix, which protects against high amounts of stomach acid.
Pinkey, 67, and Cathy, 62, of Wyoming County, are among 250 to 300 beneficiaries who, according to the United Mine Workers union, have faced dangerous interruptions to their promised but systematic prescription drug coverage not provided by Justice coal companies.
The companies promised to provide prescription drug coverage in contractual agreements with UMW in late 2016.
In late 2017, retirees and their dependents began contacting the union about unpaid medical and prescription drug bills.
Cathy and other beneficiaries say coverage interruptions have become more frequent in recent months, despite a long history of Federal Court orders requiring them to stop.
Andrew Lafferty, 72, who retired from Keystone Service Industries in 2005 after a 37-year career in mining, said coverage interruptions were happening “every two weeks”.
“We shouldn’t have to worry about that,” said Lafferty, of McDowell County.
On Thursday, UMW and four Justice coal company retirees petitioned the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia to find five Justice family-controlled companies in contempt of court for failing to comply with an order of June 2021 ordering the companies to comply with agreements they entered into to provide uninterrupted healthcare and prescription drug coverage to eligible retirees and their dependents.
Union plaintiffs and retirees filing on behalf of others in the same situation seek reimbursement for all out-of-pocket expenses incurred by retirees and their eligible dependents during the termination period of their prescription drug coverage.
“[W]We expect the company to do what is right and pay for expenses incurred while coverage expires,” UMW spokeswoman Erin Bates said in an email.
Corporate lawyer Steve Ruby said on Friday health coverage for retirees had been reinstated. Lafferty and Mullens said they did not receive notice confirming this as of Friday evening.
“The companies are working with the insurance provider to make changes to the plan that will prevent future disruptions while maintaining the same high level of benefits,” Ruby said in an email.
Ruby declined to comment on what caused the disruption.
The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Lafferty said he and his wife, Linda, had to pay for the drugs out of pocket when the company’s coverage expired – and they were never reimbursed.
“We’re on a fixed income and we don’t have a lot of extra money at the end of each month,” Lafferty said, recalling spending $500 on their last drug purchase that covered a prescription for lactulose to treat the Linda’s chronic liver disease. “Paying for these drugs pretty much breaks you.”
Cathy said the lapses lasted up to three weeks. They tricked retirees and their dependents into pharmacies only to find their coverage had dropped again, prompting them to call UMW’s legal department, Bluestone and the Health Plan, the third-party administrator based in Wheeling Ruby said handles medical claims from corporate retirees.
“We shouldn’t have to deal with this,” Mullens said. “None of us should.”
Pensioners and their dependents say they have had to go without treatment and refrain from filling prescriptions that should have been covered because they cannot afford them.
“How would he like if he had to deal with this, if a company he worked for tried to take away his insurance, his prescription drugs?” Mullens said of Justice.
“Justice is absolutely aware of the risk it faces for failing to provide order coverage,” UMW Associate General Counsel TJ Baker wrote in a March 1 email to Resources. human and legal staff at Bluestone included in a court filing on Thursday. “A Bluestone retiree can suffer irreparable harm at any time.”
Baker sent emails in February and early March to Bluestone staff saying that more than 20 retirees and active members had reported discontinued drug coverage, according to the filing.
“This has been going on for at least nine (9) days,” Baker wrote in a Feb. 25 email. “Without medication soon, I am extremely concerned that one or more of Bluestone’s retirees will experience a life-threatening medical emergency.”
Thursday’s filings from the union and the four retired plaintiffs — James E. Graham II of Monroe County; Dennis Adkins of Jacksonville, North Carolina; Roger Wriston of Fayette County; and David Polk of Wyoming County – was their first since July, when they withdrew their last request to find the companies in contempt for failing to comply with the previous month’s order.
Less than two weeks after the June 2021 order, the union and four retired plaintiffs filed a case alleging the companies had allowed a hiatus in drug coverage for the 10th time in less than nine months.
“I wish all this aggravation would stop,” Mullens said.
The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in August 2019 against Justice Energy Co., Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal Corp., Double-Bonus Coal Co. and Southern Coal Corp.
Justice Energy, Keystone Service Industries, Bluestone Coal and Double-Bonus Coal agreed in labor negotiations in 2016 to provide prescription drug coverage for UMW retirees.
In March 2021, the two parties reached an agreement to resolve the lawsuit. But plaintiffs told the court less than six weeks later that the companies were still not providing drug coverage, resulting in the June 2021 order.
Justice coal companies have a history of unpaid obligations after failing to protect their employees.
The US Department of Justice on Thursday asked the District Court for the Western District of Virginia to order 23 Justice coal companies to comply with an April 2020 court order requiring them to pay $5.13 million in penalties. claims for mining safety violations in consecutive monthly payments of $102,442. , after an initial payment of $212,909 until paid in full.
Federal authorities say Justice coal companies delayed making their December, January and February payments before not making their March payment at all, starting Thursday, despite requests to do so.
Justice and her adult children, Jillean L. Justice and James C. “Jay” Justice III, were mine controllers for whom there were over 500 outstanding mine sanctions with a combined final balance of over 4.2 million dollars, as of October 1. , according to data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration that the Gazette-Mail obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Upon taking office in 2017, Governor Justice said he would put his children in charge of his family’s business activities. The Secretary of State’s office lists Justice’s son and daughter as directors of the five companies in the union and miners lawsuit. Jay Justice is listed as president of the five.
The governor has hinted in court proceedings and interviews since taking office that he remains familiar with the operations of his coal companies.
In 2019, Justice shared operational details with reporters about the Pinnacle Mine Preparation Plant in Wyoming County that one of his companies had recently purchased, less than 11 months after he recounted negotiations between his companies and Pinnacle Mining Co. in a settlement conference after its companies. filed a federal lawsuit against Pinnacle for alleged negligent deviation from approved drilling plans.
The Justice family’s financial troubles have spilled over into court several times over the past year. In September, Justice said Bluestone Resources, one of his family’s coal companies, had offered Credit Suisse $300 million, half the value of Justices’ coal companies, to settle about $740 million of outstanding loans with the company.
The Justice family businesses had been in talks with Switzerland-based Credit Suisse at least since May after the fall of London-based Greensill Capital, which loaned the family businesses $850 million in May 2018.
Forbes removed the governor from its list of billionaires last year because of his debt.
“What Bluestone and the Justice family are doing to pensioners, especially Pinkey, there is no need to do,” Mullens said.
Pinkey has a bone density test in Morgantown early Thursday for which he and Cathy plan to make the four-hour trip from their log home in Glen Fork a day early.
Cathy hopes the Justice coal companies will stop adding to their medical stress. But she doesn’t count on it.
“I know they’re not going to listen,” Mullens said, choking back tears again. “It’s not them.”