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Mental Health Legislation We Need by Rosalynn Carter and Betty Ford

This letter was originally published in the Washington Post.

The Sept. 8 news story "Kennedy Plans a January Return," regarding Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), mentioned an effort to pass legislation granting parity in insurance coverage for those suffering from mental illnesses.

We applaud Congress for the monumental step of reconciling bipartisan, bicameral bills to produce the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. Yet despite widespread support, Congress has not found a way to pass a bill that would benefit millions of Americans and save money in the long run.

Major mental disorders cost the nation at least $193 billion annually in lost wages, and the cost of alcohol and drug problems in the United States is over $400 billion. Moreover, when insurance companies deny people coverage, these costs and others are shifted to the economy and public sector. Failing to diagnose mental illnesses further compounds the problem.

These illnesses are common and can affect anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race or ethnicity, and this legislation is good for families, businesses and patients. We cannot wait any longer to make this crucial investment in our nation's health and help people in need.

Rosalynn Carter
Chair, Carter Center Mental Health Task Force

Betty Ford
Founding Chairman, Betty Ford Center
Rancho Mirage, Calif.

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