“This rule makes clear that coal miners have a right to know a full picture of their health. No workers should lose their lives because of known dangers that were kept from them in the interest of their employers,” Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs Director Leonard Howie said. “We have carefully considered this rule and I am confident that these changes will bring transparency and improve claims safeguards for our nation’s coal miners.”
All parties will now have to exchange any medical information that they develop in connection with a claim, even if they do not intend to submit the information into evidence. Previously, parties generally kept any medical information that they did not submit into evidence confidential.
Those who fail to share data will be subject to sanctions, and the final rule will also reinforce operators’ obligations to pay benefits under existing orders while the modification proceedings to challenge orders are under way. The rule allows coal companies one year from the last payment of benefits to seek reconsideration of an effective order awarding disability or survivor’s benefits.
“Although they are legally obligated to pay benefits while challenging these awards, coal companies commonly refuse to do so,” DOL officials said. “The final rule requires the operator to pay before they can challenge the award through the act’s modification procedures.”
The rule also includes a change allowing the DOL to participate fully in the adjudication process when a liable coal operator stops its participation due to adverse financial developments, such as bankruptcy or insolvency.