Warner introduces legislation to improve early detection of black lung disease

mark warnerU.S. Sen. Mark Warner today introduced bipartisan legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH), to boost participation in federal programs that detect and treat black lung disease among coal miners.

According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, cases of black lung are at a 25-year high in Appalachian coal mining states, with as many as one in five underground coal miners in the region having evidence of black lung. In order to address this worsening public health crisis, Sen. Warner has filed an amendment to the defense, labor, health and education spending package currently under consideration on the floor of the U.S. Senate aiming 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 (CWHSP) and to identify barriers that deter miners with black lung from accessing treatment. CWHSP 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 CWHSP is approximately 35 percent among active miners and even lower among retirees.

“Black lung is a deadly disease, but the earlier it’s detected, the better the outcomes are. 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,” said Sen. Warner.

“West Virginia coal miners have worked tirelessly for decades to keep industries and communities in this country moving,” Sen. Capito said. “These resources dedicated to the early detection of black lung could be life-saving for thousands of hardworking West Virginians. Amazing work is being done in this area by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Respiratory Health Division in Morgantown, and I am honored to help that work continue and provide assistance to those who have given so much to our state.”

“Virginia’s coal miners have worked for decades, often at the expense of their own health, to keep the country’s lights on, and we owe it to them to ensure they’re aware of their options to access black lung detection and treatment resources,” said Sen. Kaine.

“Coal miners sacrifice a lot to keep our lights on, heat our homes, and power our businesses, including their own health. Black lung cases are at a 25-year high and with today’s technology and our knowledge of this disease, that is simply unacceptable. Our amendment will make sure more miners participate in early detection so we can catch it and treat it quicker. The health and safety of our miners should always be our number one priority and I will be fighting for this amendment to be included in the final spending bill,” Sen. Manchin said.

“No worker should have to sacrifice their health and safety on the job to provide for their family,” said Sen. Casey. “Black lung claims too many lives but the earlier it’s detected the better chance individuals have fighting its impact. We owe it to our nation’s miners to put in place policies that help detect and prevent this fatal disease.”  

“Ohio miners put their health at risk to power our country. Finding ways to increase outreach and miner participation in the screenings that help prevent and manage conditions like black lung is the least we can do,” said Sen. Brown.

“Eliminating barriers to participation in the Coal Worker’s Health Surveillance Program is a strong first step towards improving the health and wellness of active and retired coal miners in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This amendment will assist Congress in determining how to improve the Program, thereby enabling it to best serve miners. The amendment could also lead to better participation in the Surveillance Program, help save lives, improve early identification of black lung, and ultimately improve health outcomes for current and future health center patients throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. We support this amendment to H.R. 6157 and encourage its inclusion in the final version of the appropriations package,” said Rick Shinn, Virginia Community Healthcare Association, Director of Government Affairs.

“The NIOSH Coal Workers’ Health Surveillance Program is vital to the detection of Black Lung Disease. Ensuring Program access to as many active and non-active coal miners as possible will help miners be aware of their health status, reduce continued exposure to harmful dust, and seek treatment as early as possible. This amendment will assist Congress in determining how to improve the Program, thereby enabling it to best serve miners,” said James L. Werth, Jr., PhD, Stone Mountain Health Services, Black Lung Program Director.

Sen. Warner has been a strong advocate for coal miners and their families. In 2017, Sen. Warner reintroduced the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act to ensure black lung claims are processed fairly and quickly, and he has pushed for more funding for black lung health clinics in Virginia. In December, he joined several of his colleagues in urging Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta to keep the Respirable Dust Rule to protect mine safety and miners health. Last year, Sen. Warner successfully fought to permanently protect more than 10,000 retired coal miners and their families in Virginia who were in danger of losing their health benefits. He has also introduced the American Miners Pension Act, which would protect the pensions of more than 7,000 retired Virginia coal miners who are in danger of losing their benefits if the 1974 UMWA Pension Plan becomes insolvent.

Text of Sen. Warner’s amendment is available here.


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