CHARLESTON, W.Va. – West Virginia’s top health officer is looking at options when it comes to funding the state’s eight black lung clinics at 18 different sites. That after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services put a cap on the amount of funding for the state’s black lung program.
Last year West Virginia received $1.5 million to fund black lung clinics. DHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced earlier this month black lung funding would be capped to $900,000. That adds up to a 44 percent reduction in funding.
State Bureau of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Tierney said that money is critical to helping those with the lung disease.
“It provides assistance in filling out paperwork for black lung benefits. It provides medical care. It provides assistance with getting things like oxygen. It provides help getting appointments with pulmonologists,” explained Tierney.
Black Lung is still very prevalent in West Virginia because its coal mining history. In 2012, West Virginia came in just behind Pennsylvania, in the largest number of black lung cases filed nationwide.
That federal funding has been around for the past 34 years. Dr. Tierney said it takes every dollar to provide care to those in need.
“That helps our coal miners who are not necessarily in a place where they’ve got great access to get to Charleston or Huntington or Morgantown,” Tierney said. “These clinics are in their communities and their homes.”
The funding cap could jeopardize black lung health care for up to 8,500 West Virginians. Tierney said her office has teamed up with another agency to help find a solution.
“The West Virginia Primary Care Association has stepped up to be our partner. They have also filed a grant application,” she explained. “We’re hoping that between the two of us we’re still going to get enough money to support these valuable services.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and the state’s congressional delegation are working to help find supplemental money in case that fails or overturn the cap. Tomblin wrote Secretary Sebelius last week.
Tierney said, at this point, it’s a wait and see situation.