COL Mental health law boosted

President backs passage of insurance parity bill

President George W. Bush has given strong support to legislation that would require health insurers to cover mental health problems to the same degree they cover other illnesses.

The bill is jointly sponsored by Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. Both have personal knowledge of the issue. Wellstone's brother and Domenici's daughter have suffered mental illness and undergone treatment.

While there is strong opposition to the parity bill because of the projected cost to insurers, Bush's support is expected to give the measure a good chance of passage. Bush supported equality of treatment for mental illness and signed the necessary legislation as governor of Texas.

The president announced his support in a news conference at the University of Albuquerque in New Mexico, accompanied by Domenici. He said without proper treatment, the mentally ill can become victims of drugs, alcohol and homelessness.


Wellstone has advocated such parity legislation for seven years and has said passage of the bill would be a highlight of his legislative career. He said, "My brother is an example of someone who, with treatment, has been able to live independently and work, and is a good example of how the treatment can make a huge difference."

The bill would not affect Minnesota as much as other states because Minnesota has a state parity law. However, it would expand the effect of parity in Minnesota because the state law does not cover corporations that are self-insured for health benefits.

Health industry officials predict a significant increase in insurance costs at a time when employers already are facing double digit increases. The Congressional Budget Office predicted an increase of 0.9 percent.

However, mental health advocates say, in the long run, the bill will reduce costs by addressing treatment needs early and by avoiding a lifelong loss in productivity for some patients.

In the end, there is no logical reason to treat one kind of illness and to deny treatment to another. Certainly there should be positive effects on the economy from using existing medical knowledge to save thousands of people from blighted and unproductive lives.

; In the future, people will look back on Wellstone, Domenici and President Bush as leaders who were ahead of their time in diagnosing a serious defect in our health insurance system.

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