The agency said April 29 that the proposal, which was posted the same day for inspection on the Federal Register, requires employers, claimants, attorneys and other authorized representatives to disclose all medical information developed in connection with a claim for benefits, even when the party does not intend to submit the information into evidence.
A requirement for all involved parties to exchange information, the DOL said, will result in miners having full access to information about their health; currently, the claimant and the coal company that is liable for benefit payments can develop as much medical information about the miner as their finances allow, and then choose which data to submit as evidence for the claim adjudicator’s consideration.
The rule also proposes making clear a liable coal mine company’s obligation to pay benefits during post-award modification proceedings, and would require the coal company to demonstrate that it has paid all benefits owed under any effective award in the claim before the company may challenge the award through modification.
The DOL also noted that a coal miner that does not have full access to his or her health information may delay seeking treatment, or that individual may make an “uninformed decision” about continuing or stopping work. Accuracy of entitlement determinations would also increase, it said.
“We have listened to our stakeholders, and through this proposed rule, we hope to ensure that all coal miners have full access to information about their health and to enhance the accuracy of entitlement determinations,” said Leonard J. Howie III, director of OWCP. “Our goal is to work with all parties involved to make the Black Lung claims process as transparent and efficient as possible.”
The Federal Register listing of the proposal is available at https://federalregister.gov/a/2015-09573.