Labor Leaders Introduce Bill to Help Mine Workers with Black Lung Disease Receive Benefits
Bill would ensure every coal miner who suffers from ‘black lung’ disease receives the benefits to which they are entitled. Since 1968, more than 79,000 people have died from as a result of black lung disease
WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-08), Education and the Workforce Committee Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (VA-03), Workforce Protections Subcommittee Ranking Member Alma Adams (NC-12), and a group of Senate Democrats introduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2023to reform and strengthen the program that provides benefits to coal miners suffering from black lung disease.
The legislation is led in the Senate by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), John Fetterman (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
“Thousands of miners who suffer from the horrible effects of black lung disease are exploited by coal company lawyers who prevent mine workers and their families from receiving the benefits they deserve,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-08). “Mine workers and their survivors deserve a fair benefits system based on unbiased medical advice. This bill helps ensure disabled coal miners who deserve black lung benefits won’t be unfairly denied.”
“Decades ago, Congress established the Black Lung Benefits Act to provide monthly compensation and medical coverage for coal miners who develop black lung disease and are totally disabled. Unfortunately, a 2009 GAO report found that miners often lack the necessary medical and legal resources to develop evidence to prove their claims,” said Ranking Member Scott (VA-03). “The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act helps miners and their survivors access legal representation, ensures benefits are not eroded due to inflation, reduces the time for processing claims, and protects taxpayers from taking a hit when a self-insured coal company goes bankrupt and cannot pay black lung claims.”
“We are seeing significant gaps in protections for coal workers with black lung disease that are seeking benefits. Most workers do not have access to the legal and medical support they need to challenge coal companies and too often their claims are denied under false pretenses. Multiple Congressional hearings have shed light on this harrowing reality,” said Congresswoman Alma Adams (NC-12), Ranking Member of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee. “The current system is deeply flawed and unjust, and the workers suffering from this terrible disease deserve better. That is why I am proud to co-lead the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act.”
Between 1968 and 2020, over 79,000 miners passed away from black lung disease. A horrific condition, black lung kills slowly, with victims losing their ability to breathe.
Federal law requires that coal companies compensate disabled miners who contract black lung disease, but coal companies routinely deploy an array of unfair tactics to avoid paying miners the benefits they deserve through an adversarial litigation process. Coal miners often lack the resources, money, and access to legal representation to counter these efforts.
Analysis 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, hearings in the U.S. Senate last Congress showed that coal company lawyers have caused some miners’ claims to be denied by withholding medical evidence that proves that the miner has black lung.
Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2023
The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 aims to level the playing field for miners and their survivors seeking benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Program that is administered by the Department of Labor. Specifically, the bill assists claimants by:
- Requiring full disclosure of medical information related to a claim, whether or not such information is entered as evidence;
- Enabling more miners to get legal assistance;
- Allowing miners or their survivors to reopen their cases if they had been denied because of medical interpretations that have subsequently been discredited; and
- Adjusting black lung benefits to increases in the cost of living.
Read the fact sheet for the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 here.
Read the section-by-section for the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act of 2023 here.
Democratic Press Office, 202-226-0853
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