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Legislation aims to prevent coal companies from unfairly denying benefits to deserving miners and families

WASHINGTON—U.S Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) and Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA) today proposed sweeping reforms to the federal program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease. Federal law requires that coal companies compensate disabled miners who contract black lung, which is caused by inhaling coal dust over an extended period of time, but coal companies routinely deploy an array of unfair tactics to avoid paying miners the benefits they deserve.

To help level the playing field for miners battling this debilitating, potentially fatal disease, the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2014 was introduced by Casey and Cartwright, along with Senators John Rockefeller (D-WV), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Tom Harkin (D-IA), as well as Representatives Joe Courtney (D-CT), George Miller (D-CA), and Nick Rahall (D-WV).

“It is shameful that black lung benefits claimants have to wait years for their cases to be decided,” said Senator Casey.  “Our nation’s hard-working miners deserve much better. This legislation has the opportunity to add transparency to the black lung claims process, improve it in a significant way and bring justice to miners and their families.”

“There is undeniable evidence that as thousands of miners are being affected by black lung coal company lawyers are determined to exploit loopholes preventing miners and their families from receiving the benefits they deserve.  This legislation is needed to ensure that miners are able to obtain unbiased medical evidence, ample representation, and up-to-date benefit payments,” said Cartwright.  “I want to thank Congressman George Miller, the senior Democrat on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, for his leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with Senator Casey, and Representatives Joe Courtney, Nick Rahall, and Bobby Scott as we move this important legislation.”

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.

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 (H.R. 5751) is available here.

Full text of the bill is available here.

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