Good News for Kentucky Coal Miners

Health-Care Reform Brings Important Amendments to the Black Lung Benefits Act

More Kentucky coal miners can breathe easy after the passage of the Heath Care Reform Act. One un-publicized portion of this reform contains two major alterations to the Black Lung Benefits Act, which provides monthly income benefits for black lung to former miners. Supporting almost 69,000 people nation-wide, this program has had criticism in the past due to the difficulty of proving the existence of the disease in order to attain benefits.  The Courier-Journal states that these new changes “[create] a legal presumption that miners are entitled to benefits if they have worked at least 15 years in coal mines and suffer from totally disabling lung disease. A coal company would have to prove that a miner did not have black lung or that the disease was not caused by his work.”

Senator Robert Bryd, D-W. Va, is responsible for the alterations, which were taken away by the Reagan administration in 1981. The son of a coal miner, Byrd stated “These black lung benefits have been promised to coal miners who have acquired this totally disabling lung disease through no fault of their own.” He continued, “In far too many circumstances, miners and their widows are dying before they can claim the benefits they have earned and were promised under federal law.”

The Courier-Journal article details the struggles of Connie Hall and her husband, Noah, who was disabled by, and eventually passed away from the disease. Connie and Noah struggled with receiving their benefits, as Noah showed symptoms of black lung as early as 1979, but didn’t receive benefits until 1999. After his death, Connie Hall was forced to go through many complicated legal proceedings before receiving the mere $625.60 her husband received every month. Fortunately, the changes included in the Health Care Reform Act will allow black lung benefits to be paid to the dependent survivors, even if black lung was not considered the cause of death. For many Kentucky families, this small, but major alteration will change their lives dramatically.

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