The U.S. Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs has recommended a proposed rule to amend the Black Lung Benefits Act that was implemented in Section 1556 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The PPACA reinstates two provisions centering on coal miners' and survivors' entitlement to benefits that had been cut by 1981 amendments to the BLBA. This includes 30 United States Code 921(c)(4), which presumes total disability or death caused by pneumoconiosis for coal miners who worked for a minimum of 15 years underground or in a comparable mining environment as well as those who suffer or suffered from a totally disabling respiratory impairment. The second amendment is 30 U.S.C. 932(l), and this provides automatic entitlement for eligible miner survivors are eligible to receive benefits because of a lifetime claim. The proposed rule also includes multiple changes to outdated or unnecessary regulations in line with Executive Order 13536.
The proposed rule focuses on both new methods of establishing entitlement, which includes the automatic entitlement of certain survivors and the 15-year presumption as it applies claims from miners as well as their survivors. Under the proposed rule, the amendment will apply to claims filed on or after the March 23, 2010, and all claims filed after Jan. 1, 2005, that were pending on or after the enactment date.
"The Affordable Care Act's amendments to the BLBA provide critical benefits to miners who have had their livelihood taken away by this insidious disease," says OWCP acting Director Gary A. Steinberg. "The late Sen. Robert Byrd championed these vital provisions, and our proposed rules implementing them would have a dramatic impact on families who have proudly spent their lives working in the mining industry."
From 1982 until the enactment of PPACA, coal miner survivors who were completely disabled because of pneumoconiosis had to prove pneumoconiosis had caused the miner's death before they were entitled to benefits. In 2011, the 3rd and 4th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals upheld the PPACA amendment that automatically continues survivor benefits if the miner was entitled to benefits on a claim filed prior to death. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has also supported the reinstated 15-year presumption.