Former USEC workers not happy with changes to health benefits

PADUCAH — Fighting for the benefits they earned — More than a thousand people worked at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion plant. Today, many of them face life threatening illnesses because of the chemicals and gases they were exposed to.

Because of that, former employees are offered health care through the Department of Labor called the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program.

The Department of Labor is initiating changes to the program that have former employees concerned. Currently there is a nine-step process former workers go through to get their health benefits. Under the new rules, that will change to a 36-step process. Also, instead of health care providers helping patients fill out paperwork, patients will have to do that themselves. The change that has former workers concerned the most is the additional 60 days they will have to wait before they can begin receiving treatment. Because of those concerns, health provider Professional Case Management is suing the Department of Labor.

“We was exposed to a lot of stuff,” says Luther Johnson. He worked at the gaseous diffusion plant for 27 years. Now, he’s feeling the effects from it.

“I had prostate cancer in 2009 — November, I had a knot in my neck, lymphoma popped up a lymph node, and I’ve had lymphoma seven years now,” says Johnson.

Johnson recently got a letter telling him about the changes coming to the health benefits he relies on to survive.

“It ain’t right to take stuff away from us,” says Johnson.

He says the new rule requiring patients to wait at least 60 days for treatment is dangerous for people who might not have long to live.

“I don’t think it should take 60 days just to fill that paper out so that you can get some help, because some people are worse off than me,” says Johnson.

He also says the new rule that prevents health care providers from helping fill out paperwork will be tough on people who are very sick.

“Some of the paperwork you need somebody that understands the stuff, because if you don’t, how are you going to fill it out?” says Johnson.

Johnson hopes the lawsuit will prevent those changes from happening. PCM says the hope for the lawsuit is to bring everyone to the table, so that everyone affected by the changes can have a say. The changes to the health benefits will go into effect April 9. The process for the changes started back in 2015.

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