For women who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders, getting treatment is necessary to live a healthy life. Eating disorder treatment saves the lives of many women who struggle with food, and for women with substance disorders that coincide with eating disorders; it’s a vital part of a full recovery. In fact, compared to every single mental illness, eating disorders have the highest fatality rate. Losing someone to a lethal but treatable illness is preventable, but access to eating disorder treatment can be difficult. Recently, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which is the first piece of legislation that addresses eating disorders in America. This bill establishes that eating disorders are a serious mental illness, and obligates insurance companies to cover treatment for them at the same rate as coverage for other mental and physical illnesses.
What is Eating Disorder Treatment?
In the United States, 20 million women suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Treatment for these conditions is usually a multi-pronged approach. Generally, intensive outpatient treatment programs address these conditions. During treatment, a patient can expect:
- Group therapy
- Individual therapy
- Nutrition counseling
- Meal planning
- Work on self-esteem and body image
- Exercise and physical fitness education and planning
- Physical evaluation and monitoring
- Aftercare and relapse prevention
Comprehensive treatment is a known effective solution to eating disorders, but unfortunately, many women who need it have trouble accessing it. The goal of the 21st Century Cures Act is to guarantee access to effective eating disorder treatment for anyone who qualifies.
Risks of Eating Disorders
Without access to treatment, eating disorders can be deadly. Over time, these illnesses wear away at the sufferer both physically and mentally. Emotionally, this leads to disconnection, depression, and mental anguish. Physically, it can deteriorate the body and be fatal in extreme cases. The negative consequences of eating disorders include:
- Slow heart rate, a low blood pressure, eventually leading to heart failure
- Muscular weakness and atrophy
- Kidney failure
- Fainting and fatigue
- Hair loss and extreme weight loss
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Tooth decay
These health effects are dire in many cases. For women who are suffering from an eating disorder, treatment is oftentimes the only effective solution. Like any mental illness, eating disorders generally do not go away on their own over time but require intervention and treatment.
The 21st Century Cures Act
In 2008, Congress passed the Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Act. This law was intended to protect people who suffer from mental illness from being discriminated against by their insurance companies. The law dictated treatment costs and lengths of covered stay for mental illnesses must be equal to costs and coverage for physical ailments for all insurance company policies. What this means is that insurance companies are required to cover treatment for mental health in the same way they would for physical health. This was a milestone achievement, because one in five Americans suffers from a mental illness of some form over their lifetime, and many need treatment to overcome it. The law guaranteed that treatment was available and affordable for these individuals. Unfortunately, eating disorders were not specifically mentioned in this bill, so insurance companies were still able to deny coverage for eating disorder treatment. In many cases, people in desperate need of treatment for an eating disorder could not afford to complete treatment because their insurance company did not treat eating disorders the same way that they were required to treat mental illness or substance use disorder.
This has all changed with the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act. The bill was passed in the first week of December 2016. Along with requiring insurance providers to cover eating disorder treatment, the bill also supports the education of doctors and medical professionals about eating disorders. This law is a huge step forward for treatment. Not only does it protect eating disorder sufferers from health care discrimination, it legally defines eating disorders as a mental health illness. Being defined as a mental disorder means that eating disorders must be treated with the same level of professional care as other designated mental illnesses. This could mean improved care and access to care for millions of untreated eating disorder sufferers.
Eating Disorder Treatment at Willow Place
At Willow Place for Women, we specialize in treating eating disorders. Our gender-specific program allows for women to explore their emotions in a safe place, and benefits those struggling with complex unhealthy behavioral patterns. Access to treatment can be lifesaving, and here at Willow Place, we offer treatment for any woman struggling with these painful conditions. To seek help today, call us at 1-888-651-4212.