Monday, November 28, 2016

Obamacare changes could make it more difficult for miners to get compensation for black lung

Impending changes to federal health laws could make it difficult for coal miners to get benefits for black-lung disease. "That’s because buried in the Affordable Care Act are three sentences that made it much easier to access these benefits," Eric Boodman reports for Stat, the national health-and-science website of The Boston Globe. If those sentences are repealed, "Miners will be back to where they were in 2009, when it was exceedingly difficult to be awarded compensation for black lung."

Before the 2010 law, "to qualify for benefits, miners had to prove not only that they were disabled because of breathing problems, and that they had coal workers’ black lung, but that their disability was caused by their years in the mine," Boodman writes. That was “almost impossible,” Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, told Boodman: “The vast majority of people were denied benefits. People would take these cases through the black lung court system and they would be denied because the companies could sow the shadow of a seed of a doubt.”

The reform law "shifted the burden of proof from the miners onto the mining companies," Boodman writes. "If a miner has spent 15 years or more underground and can prove respiratory disability, then it is presumed to be black lung related to mine work, unless the company can prove otherwise." Before the law, 19 percent of black lung disease claims were successful. In 2015, 28 percent of claims were successful.

The coal industry has opposed the provision. Bruce Watzman, vice president of the National Mining Association, told Boodman, “Our concern back then, which continues today is that … compensation is not based on occupational disease, but rather this is becoming a supplemental pension program, and that was not what it was ever intended to be." (Read more)

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