Experts Urge Congress to Increase Mental Health Funding After Sept. 11 Terrorist Attacks
Congress should help fund mental health services for those affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, particularly police officers and fire fighters who have participated in the rescue and recovery efforts, mental health professionals said Wednesday. Speaking before a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, witnesses recommended a public education campaign about mental illness and "urged employers to cooperate by giving workers time off to seek mental health services," CongressDaily reports. Below are some of the suggestions from the panelists:
- Carol North, a psychiatry professor at Washington University, recommended a public education campaign against the stigma of mental illness. She added that "special attention" should be given to the uninsured and underinsured.
- Kerry Kelly, director of medical services for the New York City Fire Department, said it was important to ensure that the heroism of firefighters -- 343 of whom remain missing in New York -- is "not followed by disabling mental illness -- the fate that befell so many veterans of the Vietnam War."
- Cynthia Pfeffer, director of the Childhood Bereavement Program at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, said that government "resources" should be made available to children who were evacuated from schools near the site of the World Trade Center.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chair of the HELP Committee, agreed that the federal government should increase its support for mental health services. "The struggle against the psychological trauma inflicted by terror cannot be won without substantial resources and a substantial national commitment," he said.
Meanwhile, CongressDaily reports that the business community is opposed to a proposal (S 543) by Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) to expand the 1996 mental health parity law instead of simply reauthorizing it. Their proposal would "expand the definition of which conditions must be covered and remove some of the provisions that made the previous law affordable for business, such as allowing employers to limit cost sharing, number of visits or days of coverage" (Conner/Fulton, CongressDaily, 9/27). Specifically, the Mental Health Parity Act (S 543), would keep insurers from imposing limits on hospital stays and physician visits for mental health treatment that are greater than those imposed for physical health visits, and require them to charge the same co-payments and deductibles for both mental and physical health services. In comparison, the 1996 law required only that health plans provide equal annual and lifetime benefits for mental health as for other services. (
California Healthline, 8/2). The business community believes that increasing the requirements of the law would drive up the costs of health care. A letter from the National Association of Manufacturers said: "By increasing costs or forcing other benefit reductions, the sponsors would substitute their determination for employers' and employees' judgment on how best to meet their employees' benefit needs." Neil Trautwein, NAM's director of employment policy, said that the Senate will likely pass the expanded measure, but the House will probably "take another look" (Conner/Fulton, CongressDaily, 9/27).