Coal Tattoo

Obama takes ‘good first step’ on black lung reform


Here’s the latest black lung news, out last night from Chris Hamby and the Center for Public Integrity:

Coal miners sick with black lung disease should receive higher-quality medical reports and have a better chance to win benefits cases following a series of reforms announced Monday by the U.S. Department of Labor.

The initiatives, effective immediately, represent an attempt by the Labor Department to create a more level playing field for coal miners navigating a byzantine federal benefits system that often favors coal companies and the lawyers and doctors they enlist.

The Department of Labor moves come after the center’s remarkable reporting about the hurdles disabled coal miners must face in trying to seek black lung benefits (see here, here and here).  You can read more about the labor department’s actions here and here. Chris Hamby explained in his story:

The new measures include a pilot program that would provide some miners with an additional medical report, instructions to government lawyers across the country to intervene in some appeals and increased training for doctors and government officials.

“We really think this is going to create more balance and fairness,” said Gary Steinberg, the acting director of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, which oversees the black lung benefits program. “Our goal is that it will result in an increase in the number of awards because of an increased quality in the reports and quality in the decisions.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., called the Labor Department’s initiatives “a step in the right direction,” and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., said they were “a good first step toward leveling the playing field.” Both noted, however, that only some miners qualify for them and called for further action.

It’s worth remembering that the labor department rules aimed at ending black lung disease, proposed by the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration,  are still under review by the White House Office of Management (an agency run by West Virginia native Syliva Mathews Burwell). The MSHA proposal has been stuck at OMB since August.