In a bipartisan move designed to help more coal miners suffering from black lung, state Reps. Angie Hatton and Robert Goforth pre-filed legislation today to roll back the sections of a new law that significantly limit the number of state-certified doctors eligible to diagnose the debilitating disease.
“At a time when we’re seeing a spike in black lung, especially in Eastern Kentucky, many legislators unfortunately decided to make it much tougher for miners in these cases to qualify for the workers’ comp benefits they deserve,” said Rep. Hatton, a Democrat from Letcher County. “I’m proud to reach across the aisle and work with Robert as we try to remove this punitive measure. I’ve seen first-hand what these miners have to live with; they need our help.”
“Black lung is one of the most horrific diseases that individuals can contract through occupational safety hazards,” said Rep. Goforth, a Republican from Laurel County. “We owe it to our heroic coal miners and all of Kentucky’s workers to right the wrongs that happened as a result of House Bill 2, which I voted against. If we are committed to doing the right thing, we will fix this and correct this in a bipartisan fashion.”
Their legislation would again allow the state to contract with any physician trained to diagnose black lung. Under this year’s House Bill 2, which was signed into law in March, that group is limited to board-certified pulmonary specialists who are licensed as “B” readers.
“When this bill passed, there were only a handful of doctors here in Kentucky meeting that standard, according to a news report by NPR, and nearly all were working for the coal industry or nearing retirement,” Rep. Hatton said. “This change all but cut out radiologists who are just as qualified to make black-lung diagnoses.”
“The only reason to remove radiologists was to save money at the expense of our miners,” Rep. Goforth added. “That’s just wrong,”
In April, the chief executive officer of the American College of Radiology called this issue “a matter of life and death for many people. Politics should be left out of it. We hope that the Kentucky legislature will rescind this new law and work with medical providers to save more lives.”
Reps. Hatton and Goforth said that is just what their legislation seeks to do. It will be considered when the General Assembly re-convenes at the Capitol in January.