The results were discussed of ongoing work related to the Department of Labor's approval of black lung benefits claims and the computer model used by Labor to predict the financial condition of the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. The Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, as amended, and regulations promulgated by Labor permitted Labor to: (1) use presumptions based on years of coal mine employment to establish disability or death from black lung; (2) review claims when there was contradictory or inconclusive medical evidence; and (3) accept affidavits to establish disability or death from black lung. However, in a significant number of these cases, GAO believes that there was inadequate medical evidence of disability or death from black lung in the claimant's file. Although these files contained evidence that many claimants had respiratory-related medical disorders, the medical evidence to establish disability or death from black lung frequently conflicted with other evidence in the files or, in some cases, was nonexistent. Therefore, GAO believes there is not enough assurance that black lung benefits are going to miners who are totally disabled from black lung or to their survivors. In addition, GAO believes that some claimants are receiving benefits for respiratory and pulmonary impairments that may be aggravated by, but are usually not caused by, coal mine employment. In fact, some of these impairments may clear up once the miner is removed from the mine environment. In the opinion of GAO, Labor's new standards that apply to claims filed after March 1980 will result in fewer approved claims. No one knows when the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund will have a surplus or when the Fund will start receiving sufficient revenues to begin paying back the funds it borrowed. While the Fund model can predict when these events will occur, these predictions are based on judgments as to what will likely happen in the future. Thus, it is important for Congress to periodically assess the judgments that are used by Labor in making its predictions.
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