Senator Jay Rockefeller today announced his support of a new federal rule that will help speed up the claims process for miners trying to get black lung disease health benefits.
"This is an important step toward helping miners' black lung claims get processed more quickly and easily so they can get the health benefits they deserve," said Rockefeller. "But we can't stop there. More still needs to be done to protect the health and safety of our miners."
The Labor Department rule will enable physicians to use more modern medical technology when performing black lung evaluations of miners. Currently, the standards for administering and interpreting chest x-rays addresses only film technology. But such technology is becoming outdated and is often replaced by digital medical technology that offers quicker and more accurate readings. The new rule will allow both film and digital x-rays to be given equal importance in the claims process as miners apply for black lung health benefits.
Rockefeller added, "Just as people now prefer the immediate, high quality images of digital cameras, the same can be said of our medical devices. This rule makes sure the black lung claims process is updated to reflect advances in technology."
Rockefeller has long fought to reduce the incidents of black lung among coal miners, including by:
Working to limit miners' exposure to black lung disease. Earlier this year, Rockefeller reintroduced his landmark mine safety bill with new provisions aimed at fixing more of the glaring safety issues revealed in the wake of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster. Autopsies revealed that 71 percent of the victims of the Upper Big Branch disaster had black lung disease, including a 25 year old miner. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has also found that the prevalence of black lung disease has increased since 2000, following a steady decline over the previous 30 years. NIOSH also identified severe cases of the disease in miners at younger ages.
A new provision in Rockefeller's bill would require that MSHA issue a rule within six months -- a rule that is long overdue -- to reduce miners' exposure to respirable dust that causes black lung disease and require MSHA to update those regulations every five years if instances of black lung disease do not decrease.
Continuing to protect benefits for miners who have contracted black lung. In May, after learning that some people were not receiving their black lung benefits on time, Rockefeller reached out to the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Labor to help resolve the issue. He also supported a provision in the health care reform law that allows retired miners and their families to receive black lung benefits without re-filing claims or having to reprove their spouse died as a result of black lung disease. In an effort to speed up compensation to those affected by black lung, Rockefeller introduced a bill that would have streamlined the benefits process for miners and their families under the Black Lung Trust Fund.
Searching for new ways black lung can be addressed. In 2009, Rockefeller released a GAO report he requested regarding the persistent barriers that miners and their families face when trying to secure benefits through the federal Black Lung Benefits Program. Rockefeller called on the U.S. Department of Labor to quickly consider and act on the report.