Op-Ed

Miners will get more accurate diagnoses under new law

Black-lung disease damages the organ and causes a decline in respiratory function.
Black-lung disease damages the organ and causes a decline in respiratory function.

Earlier this year, Kentucky’s legislature passed necessary and comprehensive reforms to reinstitute the intended compromise between workers and employers participating in the workers’ compensation system.

House Bill 2, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, created a substantially healthier business climate, improved Kentucky’s position as a business destination over neighboring states, provided businesses with a better understanding as to their potential workers’ compensation liabilities, and — all complaints of the Herald-Leader editorial board aside — enhanced protections and benefits for many workers injured on the job.

In criticizing the law, a Herald-Leader editorial ironically now asserts concern for Kentucky’s coal miners, after years of championing policies intended to, and successful in, causing more than 10,000 Kentucky coal miners to lose their jobs.

Given the paper’s history and demonstrable agenda, a reader needs to ask: Is the editorial board actually concerned about coal miners or simply hoping to manufacture hatred for the industry that employs them?

HB 2 did include reforms related to evaluations for coal-workers’ pneumoconiosis (CWP), which folks outside of the industry often refer to as “black lung.”

Under the change, a CWP diagnosis for workers’ compensation will be made by a board-certified pulmonologist — a specialized lung doctor. The change is commonsense, as it ensures coal miners are being diagnosed and treated by doctors best equipped for the task.

Prior to the change, a diagnosis could be made by radiologists, whose practice and qualifications are considerably more general in nature. Simply put, the changes in HB 2 effectively improved the qualifications and level of care being provided to coal miners concerned about their health.

The Kentucky Coal Association’s members represent a vital and hard-working industry. These same members also have a vested interest in ensuring that occupational disease is properly diagnosed and treated by appropriately qualified medical professionals. We believe this is in the best interest of each coal miner.

Meanwhile, the editorial board presents the not-so-surprising disapproval of radiologists, who have personal incentives in keeping an outdated system in place. To that end, I am sure that dial-up internet providers were less than thrilled when high-speed internet provided the same customers with a better option.

Board-certified lung specialists, also certified by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, are now the ones diagnosing CWP for workers’ compensation in Kentucky — that’s a positive change.

Keep in mind that the coal industry still provides close to 80 percent of Kentucky’s power, making our energy rates among the lowest in the nation. Dedicated men and women work daily to provide for their families, and those throughout Kentucky.

To label the companies these men and women work for as villainous is not only unfair, it is wrong.

Changes under the law provide a better business environment through improved clarity and certainty for employers, while providing appropriately for workers.

Tyler White is president of Kentucky Coal Association. Reach him at twhite@kentuckycoal.com

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