The study's lead author, David Blackley, said that the rate of lung transplants for black-lung patients increased nearly threefold in the last decade. "That suggested pretty strongly to us that this is a problem that's getting worse," he told Becker.
Insurance from coal companies and other private sources paid for about one third of the lung transplants. Nearly two-thirds were paid for with public insurance, including 26 percent paid for by Medicare and up to 24 percent paid for by the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. "That fund has paid more than $45 billion to cover benefits for miners who can’t seek benefits from their employer, because the responsible company has either gone bankrupt or can’t be identified," Becker reports. A federal study is looking into how long the fund can stay solvent given the rise in cases.
The researchers who conducted the study had also recently discovered that the spike in late-stage black lung in Central Appalachia is the largest cluster of the disease ever recorded.