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Insurance Fails Patients With Eating Disorders

Nearly all eating disorders specialists say inadequate health coverage has threatened their patients' lives.

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Many patients can't get the help they need.
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By Chrisanne Grise

11/20/12

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Those suffering from mental health issues—including eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder—often face an uphill battle for health care coverage. As a new Washington Post article highlights, insurance plans tend to be far more generous with coverage for physical health issues; also, many patients with eating disorders cannot afford the out-of-pocket expenses for comprehensive treatment, which may include a combination of antidepressants, counseling/therapy, dietary consultations, mental health care and hospitalization. The Eating Disorders Coalition [EDC] attempted to get eating disorders listed under the Affordable Care Act beginning in 2014—but they were unsuccessful. “Exclusion of eating disorders is all too common on the part of insurers seeking to limit interventions deemed non-essential,” the EDC wrote in a letter to the federal government. “Despite being biologically based mental illnesses with potentially severe physical health ramifications, including death, eating disorders are all too often found on lists of benefit exclusions.” On a survey of over 100 eating disorder specialists, an overwhelming 96.7% felt that their anorexic patients were put into life threatening situations due to treatment being cut short.

Insurance companies say that they are willing to cover both the physical and mental aspects of other chronic conditions, but many claim there is no clear procedure on the best approach to treating eating disorders. “For diabetes, you have the physical aspects that are treated and then you have behavioral issues addressed as well,” says Susan Pisano, a spokeswoman for America’s Health Insurance Plans, an industry trade association. “But for eating disorders, there’s a lack of evidence for what works and what doesn’t work.” But many experts and patients insist these extra hurdles result from societal stigmas associated with eating disorders. “[With] anything that revolves around eating or lack of eating, there is a sense of personal responsibility,” says Chevese Turner, who has been in recovery from binge eating for seven years. “People think: ‘Just tell her to eat’ or ‘Tell her to stop eating’ or ‘Go on a diet.’ They don’t realize that this is a serious mental health issue."

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