Coal States’ Senators File Black Lung Benefits Bill

By | September 24, 2014

Sens. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania unveiled legislation last week aimed at ensuring fairer treatment for coal miners with black lung disease as they pursue benefits claims.

The bill by the two Democratic senators from coal states comes after an investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News examined how doctors and lawyers, working at the behest of the coal industry, helped defeat the benefits claims of sick miners. The yearlong investigation won a Pulitzer prize for the Center for Public Integrity.

Among other things, the bill would require parties in a case to disclose all medical evidence; strengthen criminal penalties for making false statements in the claims process; help miners develop evidence in their claims; and create a system to pay a portion of miners’ legal fees earlier in the litigation process.

“Too many of our nation’s coal miners have been denied basic fairness and justice,” said Casey, who chaired a hearing on the issue in July.

“No longer should our nation’s aging and sick coal miners be denied their medical records or decent legal representation,” he added. “The black lungs claims process is fundamentally broken and this proposal will seek to get it on a better footing.”

The bill by Casey and Rockefeller is long-shot to win passage this year.

Black lung is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust, where the dust particles accumulate in the lungs. According to the Labor Department, more than 76,000 miners have died at least in part because of the disease since 1968.

A spokesman for the National Mining Association said the organization was reviewing the legislation and had no immediate comment.

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