Friday, October 26, 2012

What Obama could have said in coal country: what he and Byrd did for miners with black lung

Coal industry's Kentucky license plate
This week Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette asked several people what the president should have talked about in Appalachian coal country. And they gave the president some ammunition that sounded surprisingly potent. (Read more)

Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder found this piece most effective: "The most important law passed during the last four years for coal miners ... may be one of the most unpopular in rural West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky. It’s the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and within that law are benefits coal miners have been seeking for the past 30 years."

Before he died in 2010, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia inserted a provision into the health-reform law saying that if a person had worked in an underground mine for at least 15 years and suffered from the effects of black lung (coal workers' pneumoconosis) , coal dust was the presumed cause of the problem and the miner was due benefits. In the past, explains Bishop, "X-rays would be taken of ailing lungs and doctors would try to discern if coal dust were the cause. Because coal companies would appeal judgments and it is hard to tell from an x-ray if damage has been done by smoking or coal dust, ... only about 15 percent of the miners who applied for  benefits received them."

Since 1969, when the first federal black-lung benefits were authorized, 70,000 coal miners have died from black lung. (Read more)

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