Worker health and wellness Mining, oil and gas Respiratory conditions

Democrats introduce legislation to improve black lung benefits program


Photo: iStock/Thinkstock

Washington – Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation intended to strengthen a federal benefits program for miners suffering from black lung disease.

Citing investigations that found industry-hired doctors misdiagnosed miners with diseases other than black lung, the Democrats are alleging that coal companies are exploiting loopholes to avoid paying miners’ health benefits under the federal program.

The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act (H.R. 5751), introduced Nov. 20, would:

  • Require full disclosure of medical information related to a claim
  • Allow miners or their survivors to reopen cases denied due to medical interpretations later discredited
  • Establish a NIOSH program to provide unbiased evidence for severe black lung cases

“Our legislation aims to right that wrong by helping miners obtain unbiased medical evidence, adequate representation and up-to-date benefit payments,” the Democrats stated in a press release.

Coal workers’ pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung, is a group of deadly lung diseases caused by exposure to coal dust. In the past 50 years, at least 76,000 miners have died from black lung, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

A new rule from MSHA is aimed at lowering miner exposure to coal dust. Several aspects of the rule went into effect Aug. 1, including increased training and sampling requirements.