Federal black lung claims are different from other workers’ compensation claims because they involve multiple potential payers, undergo a complex adjudication process, and exhibit considerably longer reporting and payment lags. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has estimated the deficit of the federal government’s Black Lung Disability Trust Fund (Trust Fund).1 To our knowledge, there is no publicly available estimate of the liabilities owed by the other payers: insurance companies and self-insured coal companies. Because of the high severity and the degree of uncertainty associated with these claims, Milliman undertook an in-depth analysis to produce the first-ever estimate of federal black lung liabilities across the entire industry. As of December 31, 2021, the Milliman-estimated non-Trust Fund liabilities totaled approximately $9.3 billion. Using more pessimistic assumptions, the estimates exceeded $14.3 billion. A worst-case scenario would be considerably higher.
In this article, we first provide a brief overview of the current outlook for black lung funding in the United States. We then describe how Milliman derived its estimates of non-Trust Fund federal black lung liabilities, identify financial and policy questions surrounding federal black lung claims,2 and conclude by describing important historical events related to federal black lung claims.