Black lung: New bipartisan measure helps miners

Four area lawmakers have co-sponsored an important bipartisan measure that seeks to boost participation in federal programs that detect and treat black lung disease among coal miners. 

The legislation co-sponsored last week by U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., seeks to identify barriers that deter miners with black lung from receiving treatment. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown. D-Ohio, also are co-sponsoring the bill. 

The lawmakers point to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, which found that cases of black lung are at a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states. The study indicated as many as one in five underground coal miners in the region have evidence of black lung. 

In order to address the black lung crisis, Manchin, Capito, Kaine, Warner, Casey and Brown have filed an amendment to the defense, labor, health and education spending package currently under consideration in the U.S. Senate.  

The legislation aims to improve the participation rate of coal miners in federal health surveillance programs that detect and treat black lung. Specifically, the amendment requires the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to submit a report to Congress on ways to boost outreach efforts to increase participation in the Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program and to identify barriers that deter miners with black lung from accessing treatment. 

The Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program is a national program that offers free health screening services to coal miners, including chest X-rays, lung function testing, respiratory health assessment questionnaires, and extended health surveillance. However, the current national participation rate in the program is approximately 35 percent among active miners and even lower among retirees. 

Capito, Manchin, Kaine, Warner, Casey and Brown correctly argue that by eliminating barriers to participation in the Coal Worker’s Health Surveillance Program, the health and wellness of both active and retired coal miners can be improved. 

The legislation also could help to improve early identification of black lung, and ultimately improve health outcomes for current and future health center patients, according to Rick Shinn, director of government affairs for the Virginia Community Healthcare Association. 

The legislation merits full congressional support. It is imperative that lawmakers — both Democrats and Republicans — support the well-being of both current and retired coal miners.  

These are the same brave individuals who dedicated their lives to helping power our nation. Their hard work has kept America strong over the years.

Source: Bluefield Daily Telegraph