Paid Black Lung Benefits Totaled $41 Billion Through FY2004

Total black lung benefits paid by the federal government's Black Lung Program reached $41 billion in FY2004, more than 13 times more than was originally estimated in 1969, the Government Accountability Office stated in a report published Tuesday. The report, "Perspectives on Four Programs for Individual Injured by Exposure to Harmful Substances," also covers GAO analysis of spending to date by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Program (RECP), and the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP). Congress is currently considering an expansion of benefits under a fifth program, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001, according to the report (www.gao.gov/new.items/d08628t.pdf).

The Black Lung Program is now funded mainly by an excise tax on coal and supplemented with additional funds. EEOICP and RECP are 100 percent federally funded. GAO said all four programs have been expanded to provide eligibility to additional categories of claimants, cover more medical conditions, or provide additional benefits.

"The initial estimate of benefits for the Black Lung Program developed in 1969 was about $3 billion," GAO said in the executive summary. "Actual benefits paid through 1976 -- the date when the program was initially to have ended -- totaled over $4.5 billion, and benefits paid through fiscal year 2004 totaled over $41 billion. Actual costs for the Black Lung Program significantly exceeded the initial estimate for several reasons, including (1) the program was initially set up to end in 1976 when state workers' compensation programs were to have provided these benefits to coal miners and their dependents, and (2) the program has been expanded several times to increase benefits and add categories of claimants."

EEOICP already costs $89.5 million annually in administrative costs (FY2004), significantly more than the $55.8 million annual administrative cost for the Black Lung Program, the report says. Total claims filed for each program as of Sept. 30, 2004, were: Black Lung, 960,800; Vaccine, 10,900; RECP, 20,600; EEOICP (Part B only), 59,500.

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