How To Fight For Coverage Of Eating Disorder Treatment

Eating disorders can be both medically and financially devastating. The National Eating Disorders Association says as many as 10 million women and 1 million men in the U.S. battle anorexia or bulimia, and another 13 million more struggle with binge eating or an obsession with dieting. Worse, kids as young as 8 and 9 are being diagnosed with eating disorders and adolescent girls are still the No. 1 demographic for developing an eating disorder.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. So you may be surprised to know that health insurance companies often don't adequately cover treatment for eating disorders.

A 30-day stint at a residential treatment center for eating disorders can cost up to $30,000.

"And 30 days is usually the limit set by insurance companies, if they cover it at all," says Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association.

People do stay longer but they either self-pay or fight their insurance company for coverage. Grefe often talks to parents who are fighting insurance companies for another day or another week of treatment. Yet the same insurer is unlikely to kick a child with leukemia out of the hospital at the 30-day mark, she says.

"Not too long ago insurance companies didn't cover much for autism because there was such a stigma about it," says Kathleen MacDonald, an eating disorders educator and policymaker at Kantor and Kantor and education coordinator of the F.R.E.E.D. Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group that battles eating disorders. "When enough people came out of the closet and said, 'This is not because I was a bad mother, this is a disease and my family deserves treatment,' insurance companies listened."

Why the disparity?

The lack of insurance coverage may be attributed to the wide variety of treatment options.