Obamacare ruling means little known black lung provision survives

The dramatic announcement that the president’s signature achievement, the Affordable Health Care Act, is constitutional also means that benefits for black lung victims will stay put.

When the bill was passed over two years ago, the late Senator Robert Bryd from West Virginia championed the re-introduction of the protections for sufferers of pneumoconiosis and their families.

A worker, for example, 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. Widows are automatically entitled to benefits if their husband is a miner and he had been awarded benefits at the time of his death.

Black lung health protections used to exist but were removed in 1981 when the ailment was thought to be waning. 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.

President Obama’s health care act was upheld in a narrow 5-4 ruling with Chief John Roberts, who was nominated by President George W. Bush, sided with the left wing of the court.

The four justices who opposed the law—Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito—wanted the legislation struck down in its entirety.

Image of Chief Justice John Roberts seated in the middle of a group shot of the justices

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