Bush's mental health parity stance forces HMOs' PR balancing act

WASHINGTON: Leading mental health organizations have been publicly applauding President Bush for his recent endorsements of mental health parity - the belief that HMOs should treat, and pay for, mental illnesses with the same seriousness as they do physical ones.

WASHINGTON: Leading mental health organizations have been publicly applauding President Bush for his recent endorsements of mental health parity - the belief that HMOs should treat, and pay for, mental illnesses with the same seriousness as they do physical ones.

The HMOs, however, are less enthusiastic.

The American Association of Health Plans (AAHP), which represents more than 1,000 plans covering more than 170 million Americans, is in the unenviable position of trying to prevent any mandated increases in coverage that will cost them money without appearing insensitive to the needs of the mentally ill. The AAHP's public affairs team, which has been operating in "rapid response

mode since Bush first endorsed the issue last month, is gingerly spreading its message to Capitol Hill and the media that mental health parity could lead to higher premiums and loss of benefits for most, while helping very few.

"We want people with mental illnesses to have the right level of access to the right levels of care in the right setting at the right time," said Mohit Ghose, deputy director of public affairs. "However, overriding the system with a one-size-fits-all mandate without letting people look at the science behind it

would be counterproductive, he added.

What the AAHP is endorsing is a "science-based approach

in which legislators would review scientific evidence on the efficacy of mental health treatment and then conduct a cost/benefit analysis before enacting laws.

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