At the hearing, Lu told the lawmakers that his department had identified 83 claims that had been denied within the past year and sent a letter to those claimants alerting them to the “new guidance on Dr. Wheeler’s X-ray readings.”
“The letter informed the claimants that they could request reopening of their claims, included the date by which they had to make the request, and told them that the request could be made either by telephoning or writing,” Lu said in testimony he submitted to the senate committee. “In four instances, the one-year modification deadline was quickly approaching, so [the department] telephoned the claimants in addition to sending the letter. To date, 13 claimants have sought modification in response to OWCP’s letter.”
Lu added that the department had identified approximately 1,000 claims filed by miners between 2001 and 2013 that contained Wheeler X-ray interpretations. In those cases, miners were encouraged to file a new claim.
Hopkins suspended Wheeler's black lung unit a few days after the ABC News/CPI report was broadcast and posted online. Hopkins said it would conduct its own internal investigation, which a spokesperson said remains ongoing.
"We take these allegations very seriously and are still conducting the investigation into the [black lung] program," Hopkins spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said in a June email. "While our investigation is ongoing, nobody at Hopkins -- including Dr. Wheeler -- is performing" black lung X-ray readings.
Reached by phone in June, Wheeler said he hopes to be cleared by the internal Hopkins investigation -- which he said is being conducted by the Washington, D.C., law firm Patton Boggs. "The hospital still believes in my approach," he said.
Wheeler told ABC News then he was unmoved by the Labor Department bulletin. "They're not doctors," he said. "If they were from qualified medical institutions, I would be very unhappy."