Although there are many occupational diseases that plague the American
workforce, black lung disease was for a long time considered a defeated
enemy. However, in 2011 alone, there were 138,545 black lung claims in
Pennsylvania. This led to $56 million in
workers' compensation benefit payments, and there were over 662,000 black lung-related claims
Over the past few years, the disease has been showing up increasingly in
younger Pennsylvania miners. An irreversible illness, black lung disease
is caused by dust inhalation.
To combat the increase in black lung incidents, the 2010 Affordable Care
Act has proposed the reinstatement of two provisions from the Black Lung
Benefits Act that were eliminated in 1981. Since these provisions were
abolished, the families of deceased miners who suffered from black lung
had to prove the disease caused the worker's death in order to receive
A new rule in the Affordable Care Act would make it an automatic assumption
that people who worked for at least 15 years in coal mines and suffered
a disabling respiratory impairment were in fact suffering from black lung
disease. A second new rule would automatically transfer the black lung
benefits to the family members if the miner is deceased.
When workers experience a work-related injury or suffer from an occupational
disease, they are entitled to workers' compensation benefits. In this
case, the elimination of provisions in the Black Lung Benefits Act has
made it more difficult for miners to receive benefits for their on-the-job
injuries or illnesses. The proposed reinstatement of the provisions is
meant to help workers receive the benefits to which they are entitled.
Workers in Pennsylvania will want to keep a close eye on the legislation.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, "Rule changes, bill could help black lung victims," Vicki Smith, April 3, 2012