Black lung payouts expanded under little known Obamacare section

While speculation about the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on the Affordable Care Act has been getting all the attention, there is a little known provision in the law that reinstates an old protection, an expansion of benefits for victims of black lung.

Under Section 1556 in the law that was signed over two years ago, sufferers of pneumoconiosis and their families receive expanded benefits.

The right to receive benefits was curtailed in 1981. Late Senator Robert Bryd from West Virginia championed the re-introduction of the new protections.

"The Black Lung Benefits Act has been amended so that a widow is automatically entitled to benefits if the miner had been awarded benefits at the time of his death," according to a summary of the law written by Roger Belcher, District Director at the U.S. Department of Labor.

The presumption of black lung disease is expanded under the the Affordable Care act. A worker with 15 years at a coal mine site and a disabling lung impairment but a negative chest x-ray is still entitled to the presumption that the disability is due to pneumoconiosis.

"In a survivor’s claim, the presumption is that the miner’s death was due to pneumoconiosis."

Black lung disease or coalworker's pneumoconiosis has similarities to lung disease suffered by smokers, inhaled coal dust accummulates in the lungs that can't be removed resulting in inflammation, fibrosis and more severe health problems.

While black lung was thought to be waning due to better worker protection, incidents have been increasing. In the last decade, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates that the number of cases of black lung disease has doubled since 1995 and over 10,000 miners have died from the disease in the last decade.

According to the U.S Department of Labor, black lung claim adjudications had an approval rate between 10 to 20 percent. Total claims and disbursements paid in 2011 was $227 million.


United States Department of Labor, Division of Coal Mine Workers' Compensation (DCMWC):