November 21, 2014

Warner, Kaine Introduce Legislation To Reform Black Lung Benefits System

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia introduced legislation to help level the playing field for miners battling black lung disease, an ailment caused by inhaling coal dust over an extended period of time that can be debilitating and potentially fatal. Federal law requires that coal companies compensate disabled miners who contract black lung, but employers routinely deploy an array of unfair tactics to avoid paying miners the benefits they deserve.

The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2014 reforms the black lung benefits programs by improving miners’ access to medical evidence of their health and helping miners access better, more timely assistance from the program.

“It is clear we can take commonsense steps to strengthen and improve the black lung benefits system for miners,” Warner said. “This legislation builds upon recommendations identified by several reports and investigations in recent years, and these proposals are designed to make it much easier for miners and their families to access appropriate medical care and compensation.”

“Black lung is a tragic disease that many Virginia miners develop on the job,” said Kaine. “This bill will end many of the setbacks that sufferers encounter in the current benefits system and will provide care and comfort to those who need it.”

Recent analyses by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News found that doctors who are paid by coal companies have systematically misdiagnosed miners with black lung as having other diseases, thus preventing the miners from accessing benefits. Furthermore, hearings in the U.S. Senate showed that coal company lawyers have caused some miners’ claims to be denied by withholding medical evidence that proves that the miner has black lung.

In the past year, the U.S. Department of Labor has taken several steps to address the issues identified in these reports, but without congressional action, disabled coal miners who deserve black lung benefits will continue to be unfairly denied.

In introducing the bill, Warner and Kaine joined Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), as well as Representatives Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Joe Courtney (D-CT), George Miller (D-CA), and Nick Rahall (D-WV).

The Black Lung Benefits Act of 2014 will strengthen the black lung benefits program by:

Improving miners’ access to medical evidence

  • Requiring full disclosure of medical information related to a claim, whether or not such information is entered as evidence
  • Helping miners review and rebut potentially biased or inaccurate medical evidence developed by coal companies
  • Allowing miners or their survivors to reopen their cases if they had been denied because of medical interpretations that have subsequently been discredited
  • Establishing a pilot program in the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to provide unbiased evidence for the most severe black lung cases

Helping miners access better, more timely benefits

  • Adjusting black lung benefits to increases in the cost of living
  • Helping claimants secure legal representation by providing interim attorney fees if miners prevail at various stages of their claim
  • Developing a strategy to reduce the backlog of black lung benefits claims still awaiting consideration

Additional information on the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2014 is available here.

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