CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney promises that one of his first acts in office will be to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
In his campaign for West Virginia governor, Republican Bill Maloney also bashes the law. So does GOP Senate candidate John Raese.
Seldom mentioned in the debate over health care, though, is that repealing the act would remove a major new provision of black lung law that has made it easier for disabled miners or their widows to get federal benefits for the deadly disease.
At issue is little-noticed language slipped into the health-care bill by the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., to help with longstanding problems faced by miners and widows seeking black lung benefits.
"Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would strip away access to critically important benefits for miners with black lung and their widows," said Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers union.
The UMW has not endorsed a presidential candidate, but did endorse Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Sen. Joe Manchin in their re-election bids.
Smith said the UMW was not a huge supporter of the health-care act. He said the union was "disappointed with the overall law when it was passed because we thought it did too much to keep insurance companies in charge of health care and it did too little to provide affordable, accessible, high quality care to every American, regardless of their ability to pay."
But the union supported the black-lung provision, and now opposes repeal of the entire law.
"It took 30 years to restore the ability for most victims to get black lung benefits after the last Republican attack on them," Smith said. "With this insidious disease once again on the rise, miners and their families cannot afford to lose access to federal black lung benefits again."
Black lung, or coal workers' pneumoconiosis, is an irreversible and potentially deadly disease caused by exposure to coal dust.