Dems seek to strengthen black lung benefits program
Senior Democrats in the House and Senate are seeking to prevent coal companies from withholding key pieces of medical evidence during evaluation of health claims by miners.
A bill introduced Thursday would take several steps to ease access to evidence, including requiring full disclosure of medical information related to a claim.
The measure makes further changes to the federal black lung benefits program by tying assistance increases to the cost of the living and providing some attorney fees.
“Thousands of miners are sick and dying from black lung, yet coal companies are still doing everything in their power to exploit legal loopholes that can prevent miners and their families from getting the benefits they deserve,” said the group of 12 Democratic bill sponsors.
“Our legislation aims to right that wrong by helping miners obtain unbiased medical evidence, adequate representation, and up-to-date benefit payments,” the group said in a written statement.
The federal black lung benefits program, administered by the Department of Labor, provides monthly payments and health benefits to coal miners disabled by black lung disease due to their work.
Democratic lawmakers from mining regions want to strengthen the program following media reports and hearings that found coal companies withholding key medical evidence in order to reduce benefits paid.
The bill was sponsored by Sens. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) along with Reps. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Bobby Scott (D-Va.), Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), George Miller (D-Calif.) and Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.).
Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), who will replace Rockefeller in the Senate next year, has declined to take a position on the bill.
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