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Bush Mental Parity Stance Hit

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President Bushs decision to support mental health parity legislation is drawing differing reactions from business and insurer groups.

Donald Young, president of the Health Insurance Association of America, criticized mental health coverage mandates, saying they ultimately operate as a hidden tax on workers.

“At a time when health care costs are soaring, the last thing employers and workers need is a new mandate that will make health insurance even more expensive,” he said.

Workers will actually foot the bill for the mandates, he said. “Lawmakers support them because they can get credit for something that doesnt cost the government anything.”

Neil Trautwein, director of employment policy for the National Association of Manufacturers, praised Bushs comment that the expanded benefit should not greatly increase the cost of health coverage.

But he added it may be difficult to achieve that goal.

“The balance between cost and coverage is hard to find, and one can easily become the enemy of the other,” he said. “Employers support mental health coverage, but we also remember past abuses in such coverage that prompted current restrictions in the first place.”

In a recent speech in Albuquerque, Bush outlined a plan to improve access to mental health care.

First, he said, he will support legislation that eliminates disparities in mental health coverage. The legislation, the president said, should prevent health plans from applying less generous treatment or financial limitations on mental health benefits than are imposed on medical or surgical benefits.

Second, he said, he will establish a new commission to identify ways to better coordinate public and private mental health systems.

Bush said the 15-member commission will identify the needs of patients, the barriers to care, and investigate community-based care models that can successfully coordinate the diverse system that currently exists.

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, May 13, 2002. Copyright 2002 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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