Insurance Companies Label Eating Disorders "Behavioral Illnesses," Refuse to Cover Mental Health Costs

Article excerpt

According to the National Institute of Mental Health and The New England Journal of Medicine, an estimated five to 10 million people suffer from eating disorders in the U.S. - 90 percent are young women. Surprisingly, most states do not require insurance companies to cover the cost of mental health services for patients with eating disorders,.

"So many young women are affected by anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders," said NOW President Kim Gandy, "but we have yet to see any federal regulations requiring insurance coverage for their treatment. Without federal oversight, insurance companies hold all of the decision-making power, and they are using it to deny coverage for disorders that primarily affect women."

Dr. Thomas R. Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, confirms that anorexia is a "brain disorder" that can be cured with appropriate mental and physical treatments. But insurance companies argue that there are no "standards" prescribed for the treatment of eating disorders and that this lack of medical protocol gives them the authority to determine whether or not a recommended treatment is medically prudent.

Typically, insurance companies cover the cost of treating the physical symptoms such as heart failure, kidney failure, rupture of the esophagus, ulcers and high blood pressure. But treatments that address the mental health of the patient, and the root causes of the disorder, are not generally covered, or are only partially covered.

If anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders are not treated early, they often progress until the physical effects are too disabling for a full recovery. At that point, many sufferers require the most dire and expensive medical treatments. Dealing first with the underlying problem - the eating disorder itself- would increase the likelihood of recovery and could actually be more costeffective for insurance companies. …