March 06, 2014

Manchin, Rockefeller, Rahall Lead Efforts to Protect Miners and Families in Black Lung Claims Process

Members of Congress send Department of Labor letter opposing rule that could make it harder for Black Lung patients to access medical records

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A group of seven Members of Congress, led by Senator Jay Rockefeller, is seeking improvements to a proposed Department of Labor (DOL) 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.

In a letter to Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, Rockefeller, along with Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Bob Casey (D-PA), and Representatives Nick Rahall (D-WV), George Miller (D-CA) and Joe Courtney (D-CT), pushed the DOL to eliminate the unfair burden miners face when applying for their Black Lung benefits.

The group praised the DOL for its efforts to improve the Black Lung claims process—including the introduction of a pilot program that would allow miners to compile additional medical evidence in support of their claims.

But they expressed concerns that a proposed DOL rule could work against miners by making it more difficult for them to gain access to medical records prepared by the doctors and medical experts hired by coal operators to diagnose miners with Black Lung.
Recent reports have shown that, in several cases, coal operators have concealed medical reports from miners and administrative law judges that would have helped prove the miners’ eligibility for benefits.  The letter addresses a proposed rule, originally released in December 2012, that would change evidentiary standards in cases before administrative law judges in a way that could make it more difficult for miners to access these medical reports.

“Under no circumstances should we implement a rule that imposes an even heavier burden on miners and their survivors, and rolls back the minimal rights they are currently afforded to receive copies of these medical reports.” (Read the full letter to Labor Secretary Perez here.)