Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) told the Wyoming County Black Lung Association that an amendment to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) improves the chances of black lung claimants to receive benefits.
Rahall attended the WCBLA’s monthly meeting at the Mullens Opportunity Center last Friday.
The late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, despite being very ill, sponsored the amendment “at literally the last minute,” in 2010, Rahall observed.
The amendment gives a miner who worked at least 15 years underground and has a totally disabling reapiratory impairment a presumption of having black lung (pneumoconiosis).
The miner will be eligilble for benefits unless the responsible coal operator can prove the respiratory illness did not result from coal mine employment.
The amendment also stipulates that the widow of a miner who who won a black lung claim will automatically receive widow’s benefits after the miner’s death.
Rahall said he had supported these changes in the House of Representatives but without success.
Legislation implemented under President Reagan had created additional legal hurdles for miners trying to claim benefits, Rahall noted.
Since the ACA became law, 1,700 claims made by miners and over 1,000 made by widows have been approved, the congressman reported.
After the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources changed its method for funding black lung clinics earlier this year, West Virginia’s portion was slated to drop from $1.4 million to $900,000.
Rahall said he and other members of the state’s congressional delegation persuaded the DHHR to grant the clinics $1.25 million.
“This distribution will increase next year,” Rahall commented.
Processing time for black lung claimants is currently at 42 months, up from 34 months last year. Rahall said he supports changes which would reduce the backlog.
He said having black lung “is bad enough without having to jump through so many bureaucratic hoops.”
“This should be a non-partisan issue,” Rahall stated. “You should be for coal jobs and coal miners.”
“The people who come to these meetings help each other and support each other,” said Sam Petsonk, a miner safety and health project attorney for Mountain State Justice.
About two dozen people attended the meeting.
John Conley can be reached at 304-732-6060 or on Twitter @PIHnews.