Arthritis Pills or Dinner

December 19, 2016
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COAL CITY, W.Va. — The sandwich bag is stuffed with pill bottles, so full its sides bulge. Rickie Coalson takes them out one by one: small shiny capsules for stomach problems, big granular ones for arthritis. Two different medications to keep his heart pumping, and two kinds of inhalers to help him breathe. Migraine pills and blood pressure pills, another lung medication, aspirin he needs to take daily.

Coalson, 59, is one of about 16,000 retired coal miners whose health care benefits will end in a few months if Congress does not replenish the funds that were supposed to keep these workers insured for the rest of their lives. He’s now wondering which of his medications — and doctor’s appointments — he’ll be able to live without.

“If my blood pressure’s not real high, maybe skip that, or if I can stand the arthritis pain, don’t take that for a while,” he said, kneeling on his living room floor surrounded by orange prescription vials. “You do what you have to do to survive. Coal miners are proud people, we won’t beg. But when they owe it to you, it’s not begging.”

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Image: By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0,

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