Missouri Passes Groundbreaking Law in Fight Against Eating Disorders

By May Wilkerson 07/07/15

Missouri became the first state requiring insurance companies to treat eating disorders.

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Though notoriously difficult to treat, one state is stepping up in the fight against eating disorders.

Last week, Missouri passed a law requiring health insurance companies to cover eating-disorder treatment, becoming the first state to do so. The law, which will take effect next month, expands the definition of “medically necessary” treatment to include mental-health therapy. This means insurers will have to cover psychological, as well as physical, treatment for eating disorders.

The law will also expand the range of people qualified for treatment, instead of simply qualifying patients who are significantly under- or overweight. This change is meant to emphasize that an eating disorder should be treated as a mental health issue. Experts say that failing to address the mental health component of the illness has impeded treatment in the past, putting patients at a higher risk of suicide or relapse.

“Like many mental health problems, a person suffering from an eating disorder may have no outward signs of their struggle,” said Missouri Governor Jay Nixon in a statement. “By requiring insurance companies to consider comprehensive health needs to these individuals, and not just their weight, we can help Missourians struggling with these disorders receive the care they need to recover.”

In many states, including Missouri, mental-health parity laws already require insurance companies to cover treatment for mental health issues as well as physical. But many of these laws are vague and left up to insurance companies, which ultimately means many patients are not receiving the mental health coverage they need.

Eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder affect an estimated millions of Americans, and have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.