Bush Pushes For Improved Mental Health Benefits

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:20 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - "Mental disability is not a scandal," President Bush said to an audience in Albuquerque, N.M., in an effort to urge Congress to compel health insurers to treat mental illness and medical illness in the same way.

"We are making progress but ... there's a lot to do and some of the greatest health needs and obstacles and stigmas concern mental health," the president said, speaking at the University of New Mexico. "We are determined to confront the hidden suffering of Americans with mental illness."

Bush pledged to work alongside Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), whose daughter was diagnosed with mental illness, to develop legislation to that end. Domenici has pushed for the federal government to enforce equality in the way insurance for mental disorders is treated compared to that for physical illnesses.

Bush announced the formation of a 15-member federal commission to make recommendations on improving the mental health care system. Over 48 million Americans suffer from mental illness.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-Ohio) said while Bush's intentions are good, his proposal could negatively affect uninsured Americans.

"I appreciate the attention the president is giving this important issue, and I know he understands the need to address it in a manner that doesn't deter employers from voluntarily providing health benefits to their workers," said Boehner in a statement.

"Some mental health parity laws have been successful in a number of states - and the reason they've been successful is that they've struck an appropriate balance that doesn't jeopardize workers' existing benefits or discourage employers from voluntarily providing quality benefits to their employees," he added.

Boehner pointed out that the average health care costs for employers in 2001 rose by 13 percent and "too many Americans still have no health insurance."

"I'm committed to exploring this issue in a manner that wouldn't significantly increase the cost of health care premiums or hamstring employers' ability to manage their health plans. To ignore these important factors would only invite an unacceptable expansion in the ranks of the uninsured," he said.

In March, the Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Employer-Employee Relations held a hearing on parity. It also heard testimony from both mental health advocates and employers concerning current federal mental health parity law, state laws that impact the issue, and the implications of expanding federal mental health parity for both employers as payers and employees as patients.

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