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US Senate aims to make sweeping changes to Black Lung Benefits Act

black lung

Citing unfair claims acceptance and management, among other issues, federal legislation that would change the way injured worker claims under the 50-year-old Black Lung Benefits Act are handled is now being considered by Congress.

S.B. 4511, introduced July 13, aims to “ensure that claims for benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act are processed in a fair and timely manner, to better protect miners from pneumoconiosis.”

The bill cites a number of issues with black lung claims, including a lack of legal representation for claimants facing a “complex and potentially long administrative process without resources that Department of Labor officials and black lung disease experts note are important for developing evidence and supporting their claims.”

With only 42% of claimants represented by an attorney during the initial claims determination, the bill calls the process problematic. “Absent efforts to remedy administrative problems and address structural weaknesses in the process for obtaining benefits, claimants with meritorious claims will not receive benefits,” it says.

The bill would add language to the black lung law that would address a number of issues including representation, proof of disease, conflict of interest among examining physicians and false statements.

The bill was read twice in the U.S. Senate and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.