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Federal Legislation Aims to Reduce Fraud in Black Lung Cases

“Justice delayed is justice denied” is a refrain that U.S Senator Bob Casey (D- PA) has been repeating as he fights to get black lung benefits into the hands of coal miners in a more timely manner.

After working for several months to break up the backlog in black lung benefits claims, Casey announced plans Thursday to introduce legislation aiming to reduce fraud in miners’ cases.

According to Casey, the case backlog is in the thousands now and grows by substantial numbers each year.

“But even worse is making them wait years and basing those determinations on questionable evidence – and I think the word ‘questionable’ is an understatement as well – provided by coal industry lawyers and doctors trying to gain the system, sometimes engaging in blatant fraud,” Casey said.

He said his legislation aims to protect miners’ health and promote fair adjudication of claims by requiring the parties to disclose all medical evidence developed in black lung cases – hopefully cutting back on fraud.

“Prohibit unethical conduct by attorneys and doctors by strengthening criminal penalties for making false statements in the claims process,” Casey said. “If a lawyer does that or a doctor does that, we should bring down a heavy hammer on them for doing so.”

He said the bill would provide miners with access to legal representation by creating a system to pay a portion of their attorney’s fees earlier in the litigation process.

“I believe that this is one of the essential responsibilities of companies that have the great benefit,” Casey said. “Hey, on this I’d be willing to have the federal government pay for it as well, so anyway we can get this done.”

The legislation would also restore benefit increases for recipients, provide automatic cost-of-living adjustments in the future and allow claimants to appeal their cases if they were denied due to the testimony from a discredited “expert” witness.

“I have no doubt that there will be substantial special interest against this – you know who they are and you know they’ve already lined up against any measure like this,” Casey said. “But we’re going to be determined.”

Casey plans to introduce the bill this fall - after doing some “technical work” on it – but admitted it would most likely not be passed this session.  He said they would start over in 2015 if that is the case.

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.
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