Alexander, Udall urge Labor Dept. to halt rule changes on sick worker compensation program

alexandersummitIn a letter sent Thursday,  U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., urged  Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to halt the implementation of dozens of rule changes in the government’s compensation program for sick nuclear workers.

The senators asked Perez to delay the implementation of at least 72 proposed changes until the Labor Department can incorporate the findings of a recent Government Accountability Office report on the program and allow time for the newly created Advisory Board on Toxic Substances and Worker Health to come online and review the changes. The newly created board is scheduled to have its first meeting in April.

According to Alexander and Udall, some of the proposed changes to the Energy Employees Occupational Illness and Compensation Program could adversely impact the adjudication of claims filed by former workers or their surviving relatives.

Here’s a statement from Alexander:

“At the peak of the Cold War, nearly 600,000 workers across the country — including tens of thousands of Tennesseans — were involved in the research and production of nuclear weapons. These men and women worked with little-understood hazardous materials to build and maintain our nation’s nuclear defense and keep our country safe. The Department of Labor is proposing to put in place rules that could make it harder for these workers, many of whom are sick and elderly, to get the medical benefits they deserve. We think the department should first address potential problems with its operation of the program before the department adds more burdens to these workers.”

The text of the letter is below:

March 31, 2016

The Honorable Thomas Perez

Secretary

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20210

 

Dear Secretary Perez:

We write to express strong concerns about the proposed rule regarding changes to the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOCIPA) published on November 18, 2015 (RIN 1240-AA08).  We request that you delay implementation of the proposed rule until DOL has incorporated the findings of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report on Energy Employees Compensation (GAO-16-74) and the Advisory Board on Toxic Substance and Worker Health (Advisory Board) is operational.

DOL has proposed changes to at least 72 provisions of EEOICPA, some of which could adversely impact claims adjudication.  It was premature to propose such changes before the GAO report on improving the program was released before the public had a chance to review the results of that report and before the Advisory Board was selected and seated.  It is important that the new Advisory Board be in place and has ample opportunity to review and consult on the proposed changes before the rule is finalized.

The men and women who were exposed to radiation and toxic substances at our nation’s nuclear facilities deserve to have their claims evaluated in a fair and equitable manner.  DOL’s proposed rule change may increase the burden on claimants with little or no explanation.  While some changes memorialize existing practice, others have raised concerns, including modifying a claimants’ ability to change their treating physician which arguably provides DOL more discretion to exclude providers, but also takes away the right of a patient to be seen by doctor of their choice. Under the proposed rule, qualified claimants also risk losing coverage if they are too sick to travel for second medical opinions or represent themselves at administrative hearings. Such a requirement increases the burden on those least able to care for themselves.

We strongly urge DOL to delay the proposed rule until the Advisory Board is operational, and to allow DOL and the Advisory Board sufficient time to study and incorporate GAO report recommendations.

If you have any questions about this request, please have your staff contact John Rivard or Molly Conway on Senator Alexander’s staff at (202) 224-4944 or Michele Jacquez-Ortiz on Senator Udall’s staff at (202) 224-6621.  Thank you for your attention to this matter.

 

Sincerely,

Sen. Lamar Alexander

Sen. Tom Udall

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.