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Bush endorses 'mental health parity'

Bush speaks out against the
Bush speaks out against the "stigma" of mental illness Monday at the University of New Mexico.  

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (CNN) -- President Bush is calling for "mental-health parity" in the treatment and insurance coverage of individuals who suffer from mental illness, saying the current system is inadequate.

"We must give all Americans who suffer from mental illness the treatment and respect they deserve," Bush said in a speech Monday at the University of New Mexico.

The president said insurance plans often put unfair limitations or financial requirements on the coverage of mental illness. He said those limitations are not in place for the treatment of physical ailments.

The nation's health system and insurance companies "must treat serious mental illness like any other disease," the president said.

However, Bush did not say how he would accomplish that goal. Bush steered clear of specifically endorsing a Senate measure -- co-sponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico -- that would offer broad coverage guarantees.

Instead, he said the White House would work with lawmakers on the matter this year. He said he did not want to see the solution drive up the costs of medical care.

House Republicans long have opposed parity, in part because it could prohibitively drive up the costs of insurance and, as a result, discourage employers from offering coverage. The Senate bill, on the other hand, would offer coverage for all the disorders covered in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, an array that ranges from major depression to jet lag.

One compromise would be offering parity in coverage for major disorders, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression. Bush signed such a bill when he was governor of Texas.

Bush spoke out against the "stigma" of mental illness, stressing that it is treatable and should be viewed with the same degree of sympathy as any physical illness.

"Our country must make a commitment -- Americans with mental illness deserve our understanding and they deserve excellent care," he said.

To that end, Bush announced the creation of a commission that will examine the health care system as it relates to mental health and make recommendations for improvements.

-- CNN White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report





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