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Cera pushes new plan to ensure economic stability, health of Ohio coal miners with black lung

April 11, 2016
Democratic Newsroom

State Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire) today announced the introduction of House Bill (HB) 510, legislation to ensure coal miners and their families receive fair disability compensation should they contract the deadly black lung disease in the course of their work. According to federal experts, rates of black lung disease are the highest they’ve been in 40 years among Appalachian coal miners.

“Dealing with black lung disease is a tough reality for many of Ohio’s coal miners who work some of our hardest and most dangerous jobs,” said Cera. “Providing a fair opportunity for benefits as they deal with this debilitating disease is important for the miners and their families. I hope that my colleagues in the legislature will agree.”

Black Lung Disease, caused by inhaling coal dust, severely impairs lung function and decreases the quality of life of those who contract it. The federal government and many states have laws in place to provide workers’ compensation, benefits or both to individuals who contract coal miner’s pneumoconiosis during their employment. However, disability claims connected to black lung often take too long to process, and in many cases aren’t approved until after the miner’s death, if at all.

HB 510 would create a worker’s compensation process for those with black lung similar to the one in West Virginia, which allows partial disability for miner’s afflicted with black lung disease. Cera’s legislation would provide for the determination of Permanent Partial Disability (PPD), Temporary Total Disability (TTD) and Permanent Total Disability (PTD) for miners whose claims are approved. The number of weeks and amount of the benefit varies depending on which category a miner is determined eligible.

“A miner who lives in Ohio but worked in West Virginia can currently receive at least partial benefits through West Virginia, but a miner who lives and works in Ohio has a more difficult time being approved for benefits,” said Cera. “This bill with help provide a miner who has contracted Black Lung to have a better chance of receiving at least some benefit to help them through this difficult time.”

House Bill 510 would also create a new Occupational Pneumoconiosis Board, tasked with determining all medical questions relating to workers’ compensation claims for compensation and benefits for occupational pneumoconiosis. The board will consist of five certified internists or pulmonary physicians and, after completing each investigation of an occupational pneumoconiosis claim, will issue to the employer in question a written report on its determination of every medical question in controversy.

“This bill is an excellent opportunity for Ohio's legislature to support Ohio's coal miners,” said Becky Maruca, Project Director and Outreach Coordinator at the Respiratory and Occupational Lung Disease Clinic at East Ohio Regional Hospital. “Currently, the only means to file a claim for Ohio's miners is through the federal Department of Labor's disability program, wherein the miner must be 100 percent breathing impaired. The proposed bill would allow miners to receive compensation on a percentage for a breathing impairment as West Virginia miners already have.”

Under House Bill 510, individuals must have been exposed to the hazards of coal mining for a specified, continuous time period. Specifically, an application for benefits must be filed with the appropriate insurer within three years after (1) the last day of the last continuous period of 60 days or more during which the employee was exposed to the hazards of occupational pneumoconiosis or (2) a diagnosed impairment due to occupational pneumoconiosis was made known to the employee by a physician. 

“As more coal miners and their families are being hit by the devastating economic and health effects of black lung disease, it is important states like Ohio take action to help stabilize the working people and families who keep our nation running,” said United Mine Workers of America District 31 International Vice President Mike Caputo. “This legislation goes a long way to modernize an outdated safety net that has left too many miners and their families behind. Ultimately, the coal industry, workers and Ohio will be stronger because of Rep. Cera’s efforts.”

In the case of death, the employee’s dependents must file within two years after the employee’s death. A fund already exists in Ohio to pay these benefits but very few claims have historically been approved.