The Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs is publishing for public comment a proposed Black Lung Benefits Act rule that gives coal miners greater access to their health records and requires coal miner owners to pay all benefits due in a claim before the award can be challenged through modification. The NPRM was posted on the Federal Register’s website for public inspection today.

The rule requires parties — including employers, claimants, attorneys and other authorized representatives — to disclose all medical information developed in connection with a claim for benefits, even when the party does not intend to submit the information into evidence.

Requiring all parties to exchange medical data in claims for black lung benefits would protect the nation’s coal miners by giving them full access to information about their health. Currently, the claimant and the coal company liable for benefit payments can develop as much medical information about the miner as their finances allow, and then choose which data to submit as evidence for the claim adjudicator’s consideration.

A coal miner without full access to health information may delay seeking treatment or make an uninformed decision about whether to continue to work. Making medical information freely available to all parties will also enhance the accuracy of entitlement determinations.

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