Tuesday, April 30, 2002

Bush calls for mental health coverage

Associated Press Writer

        ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — President Bush threw his weight Monday behind the idea — if not the details — of legislation guaranteeing equitable insurance coverage for mental health services.

        The president also gave his support to the California gubernatorial candidate he tried to defeat a month ago.

   White House: www.whitehouse.gov
        Turning to domestic policy and politics after a frenzied weekend of Mideast diplomacy, Bush traveled from his Texas ranch to the University of New Mexico here, and on to Los Angeles.

        At each stop, he had his eye on the November elections that will decide control of Congress and sought both to raise millions of dollars for GOP candidates and also neuter Democrat attempts to paint him as a big-business, favor-the-rich Republican.

        “We must work for a welcoming and compassionate society, a society where no American is dismissed and no American is forgotten,” Bush said in an Albuquerque speech decrying the stigma and “hidden suffering” associated with mental disease.

        Near the site of the 1992 south central Los Angeles riots, Bush was marking the 10th anniversary of that racial violence by touting his stalled initiative to involve religious groups in providing government social services.

        And on Tuesday, he was to give a philosophical address in California's Silicon Valley reprising his 2000 campaign theme, “a different kind of Republican.”

        Both California stops included fund raisers — $4 million in all — for Bill Simon, challenger to Democrat Gov. Gray Davis and the conservative Republican the White House tried to knock out in the GOP primary by forcefully supporting former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.

        Some White House aides privately question the wisdom of spending presidential time helping Simon, who trailed Davis by 14 percentage points in a Field Poll released Sunday.

        In New Mexico, Bush said he would try to broker a compromise this year between champions of mental health insurance “parity” — led by Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn. — and Republican and business-sector opponents who fear insurance premiums will spike if the government mandates that policies cover mental diseases the same way they cover physical illness.

        Bush did not get into the contentious details, but did say he would support anything that would “significantly run up the cost of health care.”

        Employer groups and insurers are lined up to fight. “Not one more dime. Not one more dollar. Not one more bill that raises health care costs,” plead new print ads running back in Washington.

        Domenici's legislation would mandate equitable coverage for a whole gamut of mental illnesses. A law Bush signed as governor of Texas ensured coverage parity mostly for severe psychiatric disorders and only on a limited number of insurance policies.

        Bush pointed to that law as evidence of his record on the issue.

        Any federal legislation, he said, “must prevent plans from applying less generous treatment or financial limitations on mental health benefits than are imposed on medical or surgical benefits.”

        Specifics aside, the president's broad recognition of the current inequities means the mentally ill might “finally see the day when their suffering and economic ruin might actually come to an end,” said Domenici, whose family budget was strapped for years by the uninsured costs of treating his daughter's schizophrenia.

        Bush named Dr. Michael Hogan, director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health, to lead a new 15-member presidential commission to make recommendations in the next year on closing gaps in the nation's mental health system without spending any additional money.

        Over lunch, Bush also raised $500,000 for the re-election campaign of Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M.


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