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News Release

Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

Employment Standards Administration

ESA Press Release: Labor Department Opens Comment on Revised Proposals For Streamlining Black Lung Benefits Claims Process [10/07/1999]

For more information call: (202) 693-0023

The U.S. Department of Labor proposed changes today to simplify the claims process for miners suffering from black lung disease. The revisions to the original 1997 proposal reflect testimony given at two hearings plus almost 200 written submissions from coal miners, mine operators and insurance companies.

"Every year, more than 5,000 miners and widows submit claims for black lung benefits," said Bernard E. Anderson, assistant secretary of labor for the Employment Standards Administration. "Despite ongoing efforts to reduce the risks for miners, they still die from black lung disease. Any changes we make that affect claims obviously are very important. We want to be certain that we make the process fair and simple for miners and for the companies that employ them."

While the proposed changes cannot and do not change the underlying law, they do update regulations that have not been revised since 1983. Narrower in scope than the 1997 proposals, they incorporate the results of 16 years' litigation and simplify the complex and lengthy claims process established in current regulations.

Under the proposed changes, coal miners applying for black lung benefits would choose an evaluating doctor from a list of highly qualified physicians maintained by the department. They could have test results forwarded to their treating physician and would also have the right to submit medical evidence independent of the initial exam. Because a miner's choices immediately before and after this initial examination are so important, the proposal contains provisions to encourage consultation with an attorney or other representative early in the process.

The department has kept its proposed limit on the amount of medical evidence submitted by coal operators and coal miners, but would allow an administrative law judge to waive the limit for good cause. The department has dropped its original proposal to require that all medical evidence be presented at the beginning of the claims process.

The department's definition of black lung is unchanged from the original proposal. After the 1997 hearings, the department received a wide range of comments about the definition and asked for guidance from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The institute reviewed the comments and supported the department's proposed definition.

The department annually sends $450 million in benefits to the homes of 60,000 coal miners who have been disabled by black lung disease. The department's economic analysis shows that if implemented, the changes would cost the coal industry about three-tenths of one percent of its annual revenue.

The revised proposal will be published in the Friday, Oct. 8 Federal Register and will be available tomorrow on the Internet at www.gpo.gov The economic analysis will be up on the department's website by Wednesday, Oct. 13 at www.dol.gov

The proposal will be open to comment for 60 days. Comments should be sent to James DeMarce, director, Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation, Room C-3520, U.S. Labor Department, 200 Constitution Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C., 20210, fax number (202) 693-1398. Copies of the revised proposals are also available from DeMarce.

Archived News Release — Caution: Information may be out of date.

Agency
Employment Standards Administration
Date
October 7, 1999
Contact: David Roberts
Phone Number