Manchin seeking clear COVID-19 guidance for black lung clinics

Source: The Register-Herald

April 16, 2020


charleston – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has asked the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Eugene Scalia and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to immediately provide clinics and the miners they serve with clear, written guidance regarding how miner’s black lung benefit claims will be processed during the COVID-19 pandemic and what specific flexibilities are being instituted to ensure miners do not lose access to essential benefits and treatment through no fault of their own.

Those guidelines include:

1. Miners and black lung clinic staff are concerned miners who are not able to obtain and provide necessary medical evidence and supporting materials during this public health emergency may be punished for missing claims deadlines. While DOL has generally stated that deadlines will be relaxed, these individuals require detailed written guidance on which deadlines will be extended and for how long at each level of the claims process. This guidance should include suspension of specific time limits contained in the “Schedule for the Submission of Additional Evidence” and should extend deadlines by at least the amount of time that miners have been unable to access necessary testing and evaluation during this pandemic.

2. If DOL takes the position it cannot legally extend any deadline, written guidance must be provided identifying the specific deadlines and explaining what steps DOL will take to ensure any failure to meet these deadlines during this pandemic will not permanently undermine miners’ right to due process or access to benefits.

3. Many clinics have suspended all pulmonary examinations ordinarily used to determine benefit eligibility because the clinics believe these examinations cannot be conducted safely at this time. The agencies should provide detailed and uniform guidance to all clinics instructing them to pause such examinations if it is unsafe to perform them. The agencies should provide further information on what changes to existing procedures must be made to enable the eventual safe resumption of testing.

4. During this public health emergency, miners with black lung disease need access to essential health services. The agencies should make available information on how quickly miners who were recently placed into payment status will receive the black lung benefits identification cards they present when receiving needed respiratory treatment and take every measure possible to get these cards delivered to miners as quickly as possible. The agencies should also provide written information on how miners who have not yet received their cards can obtain coverage for necessary respiratory treatment related to their underlying condition or COVID-19 without copays.

5. The agencies should provide information on how authorization is being provided for coverage of prescription drugs, medical services, needed medical equipment and other costs covered by Black Lung Program medical benefits. The agencies should detail any additional flexibilities being granted to miners and their health care providers to ensure they do not lose access to medications, services or equipment.

6. Many miners undergoing pulmonary rehabilitation services may have their services interrupted during this public health emergency. Black lung clinics are concerned that the interruption may set miners’ rehabilitation progress back. The agencies should provide information on how the authorization of these rehabilitation services will be handled now and going forward. This should include an allowance for miners to receive additional treatment sessions or re-start their rehabilitation to overcome setbacks from being forced to miss sessions.