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 Home > News & Policies > April 2002

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 29, 2002

Fact Sheet: Improving Access to Quality Mental Health Care

Today's Presidential Action

  • In a speech at the University of New Mexico, President Bush today announced his plans to improve access to quality, effective mental health care. The President announced that he will work to pass federal mental health parity legislation to eliminate disparities in the coverage of mental health benefits.

  • The President also announced the formation of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to develop recommendations on improving the nation's mental health service delivery system.

Background on Today's Presidential Action

  • Each year, millions of Americans suffer from mental illness. Many adults and children are significantly disabled by severe and persistent mental illness. Untreated mental illness is a great national problem.

  • The stigma of mental illness often discourages patients from seeking care despite the existence of new drugs and therapies that have vastly improved the chances for effective treatment and recovery. Without access to necessary and effective quality care, far too many Americans will live with untreated mental illness that too often can lead to homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction or incarceration.

Parity in Mental Health Benefits

  • Despite the advances that have been made in the science of mental health treatment, many health plans unfairly treat coverage for mental health benefits by imposing copayments, deductibles or limits on outpatient visits that are more restrictive than those placed on physical illness.

  • The President has a history of supporting parity legislation. In 1997 as Governor of Texas, he signed legislation into law that required plans to provide fair treatment to patients with severe mental illnesses.

  • The President will work with Senator Domenici and other leaders in the House and Senate to reach an agreement on mental health parity legislation that can pass Congress and be signed into law. The legislation must prevent plans from applying less generous treatment or financial limitations on mental health benefits than are imposed on medical or surgical benefits.

The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health

  • Currently, numerous Federal, State and local government entities oversee mental health programs, policy, funding and the diverse network of public and private providers. More efficient organization and coordination could assist these providers in ensuring effective treatment is received by those in need.

  • To address this issue, President Bush is establishing the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. The Commission will be composed of fifteen members, appointed by the President, and seven ex-officio members from executive branch agencies. The Commission will identify the needs of patients, the barriers to care, and investigate community-based care models that have success in coordinating and providing mental health services. The Commission will have one year to recommend immediate improvements that can be implemented by all aspects of the public and private mental health system to improve coordination and quality of services with existing resources.