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Coal industry allegedly stalls black lung disease benefits

Black lung disease remains a health risk for Pennsylvania coal miners. Statistics from the federal Department of Labor show that black lung disease killed over 70,000 workers from 1970 to May 2013. Historically, the disease has killed more miners than cave-ins and explosions. The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969 mandates federal benefits for workers with this disease.

Benefits for sick miners and their families, however, remain difficult to obtain. The Center for Public Integrity asserts that the coal industry encourages its doctors and attorneys to block black lung claims by workers.

Acting on these allegations of misconduct, the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Education and Workforce has asked the Department of Labor to push for timely evaluations of workers' claims. A ranking committee member, Robert C. Scott (D-Va.), plans to re-introduce the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act. The act's reforms are intended to speed claims processing.

A worker who is hurt, killed or made sick by a job has a right to collect workers' compensation benefits for medical treatment, reimbursement of lost income or family death benefits. Many requirements, however, need to be met before an insurance company pays benefits. Workers may consult with an attorney in order to complete an application properly and hopefully avoid a delay or denial. An attorney might be able to ensure that documentation from a medical provider and workplace has been submitted on time. Disputes with an insurance carrier or employer might also be settled by an attorney through negotiation or a lawsuit.

Source: EHS Today, "Dirty Little Secret: A Backlog of Black Lung Claims Leaves Miners Waiting for Help," Sandy Smith, April 14, 2015

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