WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs today announced a final rule adopting standards for administering and interpreting digital radiographs for the Federal Black Lung Program. The new rule will enable physicians who perform diagnostic testing of miner-claimants to use more modern medical technology to conduct a complete pulmonary evaluation. The rule allows film and digital chest X-rays to be given equal importance in claims adjudication.
Physicians use chest X-rays as a tool to evaluate whether a miner suffers from pneumoconiosis, commonly known as black lung disease. Until now, the standards for administering and interpreting chest X-rays addressed only film radiographs. But film-based technology is rapidly being replaced by digital radiography in medical facilities, and the number of physicians conducting diagnostic testing with older equipment has declined. The revised rule provides quality standards for digitally acquired X-rays and allows film and digital X-rays to be given equal importance in claims adjudication.
"This important rule will make it easier for all parties to develop medical evidence for claims proceedings and will help miners and their families to get the benefits to which they're entitled," said Gary A. Steinberg, OWCP Acting Director. "The number of facilities offering film-based X-rays has been shrinking rapidly, and miners have had to travel long distances to get to them. By expanding the number of available medical facilities, this rule will help eliminate that burden. It will also reduce OWCP's processing costs and the time it takes to adjudicate claims."
The standards adopted in this final rule are based largely on those adopted in 2012 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health for its Coal Workers' Health Surveillance Program. NIOSH is the department's adviser for developing medical tests for Black Lung Benefits Act claims.
The final rule was published in the Federal Register on April 17, and it can be viewed at https://federalregister.gov/a/2014-08636.
The mission of the Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation, or the Federal Black Lung Program, is to administer claims filed under the Black Lung Benefits Act. The Act provides compensation to coal miners who are totally disabled by pneumoconiosis arising out of coal mine employment, eligible survivors of miners whose death was attributable to or hastened by pneumoconiosis, and survivors of miners who were entitled to benefits at the time of their death. The Act also provides eligible miners with medical coverage for the treatment of lung diseases arising out of coal mine employment. For more information, visit http://www.dol.gov/owcp/dcmwc/.