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Carter says don't ignore mental health issues

The national debate on health care reform represents a real opportunity for mental health issues to get the attention they deserve, former first lady Rosalynn Carter said Tuesday.

"We know what to do, we know what works, we know what we need," said Carter, who spoke at the Florida Mental Health Institute's seventh annual Research and Training Center for Children's Mental Health Conference.

Carter worked closely with a task force that provided recommendations on mental health care reform to first lady Hillary Clinton last year.

But revisions in the Clinton plan have jeopardized the open-ended, comprehensive insurance coverage for the estimated 30-million people who suffer from some kind of mental illness.

"The challenge we now face is finding a way to provide affordable and comprehensive mental health care for everybody," Carter said. "I think we should have mental health benefits on par with physical benefits."

During a brief question-and-answer session at the end of Carter's speech, she was asked what areas she would compromise in return for mental health coverage. "I'm not willing to give up anything, yet," she responded to applause. "But I guess at some point, we will have to."