Resolving the Backlog for Black Lung Disease Care

Aug 26, 2014

The x-ray of a coal miner with Pneumoconiosis, commonly known as Black Lung Disease.
Credit LeRoy Woodson / National Archives and Records Administration

U.S. Senator Bob Casey is laying out a plan to reduce a claims backlog that has impacted residents throughout the region. He recently chaired a hearing to explore the challenges that former coal miners are dealing with.

Dr. Kevin Gibson of the UPMC Pulmonary, Allergy & Critical Care Medicine department explains that although the term “black lung disease” is the popular name for the disease, it “doesn’t really capture how we think of the disease in the medical field.” According to him, black lung is more accurately described as two different types of disease.

“Simple pneumoconiosis is a problem where you develop very, very tiny nodules in the lung, which, generally speaking, are not associated with much in the way of symptoms. The severe disease, the serious disease, is what we call complex pneumoconiosis, or another term we use to describe it is progressive massive fibrosis. Those patients usually go on to respiratory failure, and those are the folks that usually die from the disease. Fortunately, they represent a relatively small percentage of people who are exposed.”

Despite improvements in medical and protective technologies, there has been an increase in cases of black lung. According to Casey, this increase may be traceable to cuts in public funding, so he has worked to focus more attention to the issue to the Senate.

“We’re trying to bring a lot of focus and attention to this, and part of that is to focus on the basic budget challenge. … The administration, even though they have added a 12% increase in their proposal for fiscal year 2015 ... is a good start, but they need more than that. We’re urging the administration to add at least $10 million more, because that’s the dollar amount … that would at least help the department to begin to reduce the backlog, the delays facing these miners and their survivors as well as the employers themselves.”