Insurers must cover treatment for eating disorders

Kristy Klueh
Kristy Klueh

Up to 30 million Americans are suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating, according to the National Eating Disorder Association.

Kentucky is 25th in the nation, with approximately 149,000 individuals afflicted with such devastating disorders. For those seeking treatment, there are zero inpatient facilities and there is only one outpatient therapy program in this state.

Currently, the majority of insurance companies do not cover inpatient residential treatment for individuals suffering with eating disorders. Some partially cover inpatient care.

However, payment ends once doctors, who work for the company, determine that the patient is in medically sound condition. Moreover, individuals with state-provided medical coverage have nowhere to go because their insurance cannot be used in other states where these facilities are located.

Inpatient treatment for individuals suffering from eating disorders can range anywhere from $500 to $2,000 a day without insurance. The average cost for a 30-day stay in a treatment facility is $30,000. However, many patients often need three to six months of inpatient care.

The Anna Westin Act, or House Resolution 2515, was introduced to the U.S. House by Florida Reps. Theodore E. Deutch and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in May 2015. It would amend the Public Health Service Act to prohibit insurance companies from permanently excluding a particular condition from mental-health or substance-abuse disorder benefits and including residential treatment benefits.

This would allow individuals with eating disorders to get the medical coverage they need and to receive the treatment they require.

The bill was inspired by Anna Westin, a young woman from Minnesota, who suffered from anorexia nervosa for over five years. It consumed her 20-year-old body so badly that she had to drop out of school in Oregon and move back to Minnesota. She plummeted to a mere 83 pounds from her regular weight of 125 pounds on her 5-foot-3 frame, losing 34 percent of her body weight in a matter of months.

Despite her doctor’s recommendation of hospitalization, Anna’s insurance company refused to pay for the costs, deeming them “medically unnecessary.” After fighting with their provider for several days, the company agreed to cover a mere 10 days of treatment. Anna’s mother said, “The insurance company, who had never talked to Anna, had never seen her, didn’t really know anything about her, said that it wasn’t medically necessary, which is obscene. It makes me very, very angry. Anna had a disease they didn’t want to even hear about.”

On Feb.16, 2000, at the age of 21, Anna died at the local hospital from an overdose of sleeping pills, antidepressants and Tylenol. She left a note on her nightstand saying, “I’m sorry. I love you.” Friends later revealed that Anna had felt like a monetary burden to her family, who had spent an estimated $20,000 for her medical costs.

Anna’s parents sued their insurance company for lack of care and won. This company amended their policy for treatment coverage for individuals suffering with an eating disorder.

Insurance companies today need to understand that eating disorders are the most deadly mental illness, taking the lives of approximately 20 percent of those who suffer from them. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death, after cardiac disease, among women with anorexia nervosa.

Help stop this epidemic and support the Anna Westin Act by contacting your congressman.

Kristy Klueh, a Lexington native, is pursuing a masters in social work at the University of Southern California.