Manchin Introduces Bicameral Legislation to Reform Black Lung Benefits Program
Legislation aims to prevent coal companies from unfairly denying benefits to deserving miners and families
Washington, D.C. — In an effort to ensure coal miners receive the benefits they’ve earned and deserve, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today introduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2014 along with Senators John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Mark Warner (D-VA), as well as Representatives Nick Rahall (D-WV), Joe Courtney (D-CT), George Miller (D-CA), and Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA).
The proposed legislation would make sweeping reforms to the federal black lung benefits program. 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.
“Over the years, black lung disease and our miners who suffer its devastating effects have not received the attention they deserve,” Senator Manchin said. “What many Americans may not realize is that the federal government’s commitment to the health and wellbeing of miners goes back to the 1930s, when President Franklin Roosevelt began investigating medical care in the coalfields. He recognized that our miners mined the coal that produced the steel that built our nation and helped us win World War II. Every day, then and now, thousands of miners walk into darkness to help defend our nation, power our businesses, and meet our energy needs. We have upheld that commitment ever since and must continue to do so, which is why I am proud to sponsor this legislation with my colleagues. The very least we can do is make sure that all miners have access to adequate medical care and legal counseling while ensuring that unfair practices do not delay or deny a miner their benefits. I will continue this fight until our brave miners receive the necessary assistance and care they have earned.”
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.
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, Senator Manchin testified at recent Senate hearings that revealed coal company lawyers have caused some miners’ claims to be denied by withholding medical evidence that proves that the miner has black lung. To read Senator Manchin’s full testimony, please click here.
Senator Manchin also continues to fight to protect funding for West Virginia Black Lung Clinics. Since February 2014, Senator Manchin has worked closely with Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Rahall to urge HRSA and the Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) to ensure West Virginia receives sufficient funding so that miners suffering from black lung disease can get the treatment and medical services they need. To read more information, please visit Senator Manchin’s website here.
In March 2014, Senator Manchin sent a letter, along with Senator Rockefeller and Congressman Rahall, to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez on a proposed Department of Labor rule that could limit the ability of miners suffering from Black Lung disease to access medical records needed to prove their eligibility for federal benefits. To read Senator Manchin’s letter, please click here.
In addition, Senator Manchin, along with Senator Rockefeller, introduced S. 805, the Robert C. Byrd Mine and Workplace Safety and Health Act, which required the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to finalize regulations to lower the permissible breathable dust exposure levels and update testing procedures to find the maximum protection from breathable dust that can be achieved through environmental controls. The rule was finalized by MSHA on April 23, 2014.
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