By Annetta Ramsay
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
As health reform is getting implemented and taking practical shape we must have coverage of this killer illness that applies to all phases of needed and critical treatment.
Credit: evelina zachariou on Flickr, under Creative Commons
Her description of the dark bout of bulimia during her 20s will come as a surprise to many who saw Nicole Scherzinger's bright onstage persona. Yet, her message that people can and do recover from eating disorders offers hope to those who still struggle.
Much is at stake, particularly for girls and women, because eating disorders have the ultimate endgame--and it's not weight loss. Eating disorders kill. Women ages 15-24 are 12 times more likely to die from anorexia than from all other causes of death combined.
A killer illness deserves the best care.
Unfortunately, inadequate insurance coverage causes those with eating disorders untold pain.
For the past 29 years I have been an eating disorders therapist, with 14 of those as the founding director of an outpatient treatment program. I've participated in a growing understanding of how best to treat these disorders. We now know a team composed of a physician, a therapist and a dietitian is the most effective approach. Without this team, the odds of recovery drop substantially.
Insurance companies don't get this, choosing to cover physical care, such as medical monitoring and stabilization, but limiting psychotherapy or nutritional counseling. While the Affordable Care Act increases insurance access and adds consumer protection by eliminating pre-existing conditions, its failure to bolster the 2008 Mental Health Parity Act may continue to keep insurance coverage for eating disorders treatment out of reach.
Eating disorders have been excluded from what can be treated, according to the
Washington-based Eating Disorders Coalition. They report that treatment centers and patients say that coverage for eating disorder treatment has gotten more difficult since parity passed.
New mandates in the works could also help achieve mental health parity, but given the poor track record of eating disorders coverage by insurance companies, something more is needed.
The Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act is intended to address this lack of parity by including treatment in medical coverage. This little-known act was first introduced in 2009, and it has been reintroduced every year since. If passed, this legislation could clear up gaps that have allowed insurance companies to provide inadequate coverage.
Here are some stories from my practice where adequate insurance might have made a difference:
Beyond inadequate coverage, insurance companies often send patients to generalists who have seen a few eating disorder cases but who lack specialized knowledge to treat them successfully. Only 35 percent of those who get help get specialized treatment, finds a study cited by the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.
Twenty million American women suffer from some type of eating disorder at some time in their life, according to the Textbook of Psychiatric Epidemiology. Estimating how many people die from eating disorders is difficult because most die from complications, such as heart or organ failure.
One crude estimate from the National Institute of Health is 150,000 people die each year from eating disorders, representing 10 percent to 20 percent of those who suffer. These figures may climb higher because binge eating was only officially recognized as a disorder in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the go-to guide for medical professionals published in 2013.
In fairness to insurance companies, eating disorders are complex, time consuming and expensive to treat. But the lives of people suffering from eating disorders must be considered just as important as those of anyone else with any form of a serious illness.
Annetta Ramsay, Ph.D., a public voices fellow of The OpEd Project at Texas Woman's University, is a nationally certified and licensed counselor who has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders for 29 years. She directs the Chrysalis Treatment Program in Denton, Texas.
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