U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., today applauded last night's historic vote in the House of Representatives on the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" that includes provisions he authored to facilitate medical support for coal miners who are suffering from black lung disease.
Federal law requires for coal companies to provide income and medical support to coal miners who become totally disabled by black lung disease. The disease occurs when miners are exposed to excessive dust levels and involves scarring and degeneration of the lung issue. It is a progressive and irreversible disease, commonly resulting in death.
"These black lung benefits have been promised to coal miners who have acquired this totally disabling lung disease through no fault of their own," said Byrd. "And, unfortunately, there are thousands of miners and widows who are unfairly denied black lung benefits because of excessive adjudicatory hurdles. In far too many instances, miners and their widows are dying before they can claim the benefits they have earned and were promised under federal law."
"And despite the rhetoric to the contrary, this language will not cost one additional dime, unless employers took insufficient precautions to protect their workers from black lung disease," Byrd stated.
Senator Byrd's provisions in the bill will streamline the application process to provide benefits more promptly. There are two key provisions Byrd inserted into the bill:
--In cases where a miner has accumulated 15 or more years of coal mine employment, and there is medical evidence of totally disabling lung disease, there will be a legal presumption that the miner and his widow would be entitled to benefits -- unless there is evidence proving that the miner's disease was not black lung, or that the disease did not result from coal mine employment; and
--For widows of coal miners who spouses suffered from totally-disabling black lung disease and were collecting benefits, they would no longer have to reapply to retain their modest benefits.
"This bill is very welcome news for those who have been treated unjustly over the years, and should provide some comfort knowing that their benefits will be forthcoming in the future," Byrd added.
President Obama is expected to sign the legislation into law on Tuesday, March 23.