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David Mittleman
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Bearing the Cost of Treating Eating Disorders

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When it comes to treatment for eating disorders, even having "great" health insurance can completely destroy a family’s finances. Even in the face of growing numbers of people seeking treatment for eating disorders, insurance companies routinely deny adequate coverage of eating disorders because, according to these billion-dollar profiteers, there isn’t enough scientific evidence on how to best treat the problem. If your loved one wants to get solid residential treatment (and if he or she has a serious problem, they definitely do) most insurers do not cover long-term treatment, according to the chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Association, Lynn S. Grefe.

The last decade saw an 18 percent increase in hospitalizations for problems caused by eating disorders (according the federal agency for Healthcare Research and Quality). The most horrific increase, in my opinion, was the 119% increase for children under 12. For people with serious eating disorder problems, the best method of treatment can often involve long-term residential care. These facilities, with their network of specialists and care staff, can run about $30,000 per month. My daughter Hannah graduated from Michigan State University, where her tuition was closer to $30,000 for her entire undergraduate career.

The result of insurance companies not covering adequate treatment for eating disorders? Families have the unbearable choice of getting no treatment at all for their loved ones, risking their lives in the process, or exhausting whatever savings they have to help. If you have health insurance, be prepared for a fight. Fortunately, the National Eating Disorders Association has created a Parent Toolkit to arm parents with strategies and tips on how to interact and negotiate with your insurer.

There are some academic hospitals, however, that have begun to offer free treatment if you meet certain criteria and agree to participate in additional follow-up care that assists the university and its students in its research objectives. Examples of such institutions include the New York State Psychiatric Institute, where – if qualified – patients receive extensive treatment completely free.

Regardless, if you worry about a loved one’s problems as it relates to eating disorders, experts universally agree that early intervention is critical, so get an evaluation as soon as possible.