President Donald Trump has signed into law an important bipartisan amendment that aims to increase coal miner participation in a national program that detects black lung disease. The hope is that by improving outreach efforts, more miners will be screened thus improving the chances of doctors catching cases of black lung early. 

The bipartisan measure — a rarity nowadays in Washington — was backed by a number of lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., U.S. Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. 

Trump signed the measure, an amendment to the federal health spending package, last week, according to Nelly Decker, a press secretary for Warner. Warner, a Virginia Democrat, introduced the original legislation in August. 

“Black lung is a deadly disease, but the earlier it’s detected, the better the outcomes are,” Warner said last week. “Underground coal miners help keep the heat and the lights on, but often at a significant cost to their own health. By improving outreach efforts, we can make sure that more miners are getting screened so we can catch cases of black lung early, and make sure that they can get the treatment they need.” 

A recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health 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. 

The new federal measure aims to improve the participation rate of coal miners in federal health surveillance programs that detect and treat black lung. Specifically, it 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 initiative 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. 

We are glad to see that this important measure has been signed into law by Trump, who is a vocal supporter of coal miners. 

With hope this new federal effort will help to improve early identification of black lung and health outcomes among both retired and active coal miners.