A bill introduced by Rep. Angie Hatton, Democrat of Whitesburg, and Rep. Robert Goforth, Republican of East Bernstadt, aims at reversing a state law that severely limits the number of doctors who can diagnose black lung.
The law, which took effect in June, allows only pulmonologists who are also certified as “B readers” to diagnose the disease. Several hundred radiologist stake a Breader certification test administered by the National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health every four years, and the certification is required to diagnose under the federal black lung program.
But while there are hundreds of radiologists with the certification, only seven Kentucky pulmonologists were certified as B readers when the law took effect.
Hatton and Goforth pre-filed legislation on Monday to roll back the sections of the law that limited diagnoses to those seven doctors. The bill would increase the number of doctors allowed to diagnose under the state program by once again allowing the state to contract with radiologists.
“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. “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,” Goforth said. “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,” 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,” Goforth added. “That’s just wrong.”
In April, the chief executive officer of the American College of Radiology called the 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 reconvenes at the Capitol in January.