Ongoing reports from the Center of Public Integrity news sources have motivated the U.S. Senate to reform the Black Lung Benefits Acts, which mandates medical payments to coal miners who are severely disabled by the disease. Government investigations reportedly aim to determine if mining workers in Pennsylvania and other states are being wrongfully denied occupational illness benefits due to faulty medical reviews.
Black lung is caused by frequent exposure to high amounts of coal dust and can lead to harmful inflammation. As black lung is directly related to occupational conditions, sources say that workers with the most severe form are supposed to qualify for benefits automatically, pending a doctor’s examination. The Department of Labor intends to take a medical professional’s credibility into account when determining future cases and pay closer attention to judicial evaluation of medical opinions, a federal official confirmed.
Records from the past few years indicate that less than 10 percent of workers awarded benefits have ultimately received their compensation due to appeals filed by coal manufacturers. Physicians at John Hopkins Hospital who are responsible for evaluating black lung X-rays have rarely identified cases severe enough to meet the benefits criteria. With involvement in more than 1,500 cases that were denied benefits, the hospital unit’s lead physician defended his medical opinion and stated that he was following standard procedures, according to reports.
While specific findings from the reports were not disclosed, sources suggest that gaps in the BLBA legislation may help companies invalidate legitimate benefits claims. Workers who have been wrongfully denied benefits due to a misdiagnosis of an occupational illness might seek a second opinion in order to establish proof of the condition’s origin. At that time, steps may be taken in the legal system to pursue rightful benefits.
Source: ABC News, “Lawmakers Want Tougher Legislation for Black Lung Miners“, Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk, and Chris Hamby, November 05, 2013