Follow the story of Chevese Turner which caught our eye this week… she has battled an eating disorder her entire life but received a disappointing amount of support from her health insurance plan.
Chevese Turner is a 44-year-old woman who has suffered from a binge eating disorder since the age of five. According to a recent article in Kaiser Health News, Turner’s life has been repeatedly disrupted by sporadic episodes of overeating followed by overwhelming feelings of shame and guilt. She has had to seek numerous forms of treatment for her condition over a period of 20 years. Although she has health insurance, some of the treatments needed for her eating disorder have not been covered. For example, nutritional counseling with dietitians was not covered. At times, Turner has had to forgo treatments that her insurance did not cover because she could not afford to pay for them out of pocket.
Many people with eating disorders have stories similar to Turner’s. The New York Times recently reported that a growing number of legal claims and court cases are being filed by individuals with severe cases of anorexia and bulimia who need their insurers to cover stays in residential treatment centers. These centers offer the type of intensive monitoring that many patients need in order to break the cycle of self-starvation or purging.
Dr. Anne E. Becker, president of the Academy of Eating Disorders and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital eating disorder program, has stated that residential treatment is life-saving for some eating disorder patients.
An advocacy group called Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) is working to obtain better insurance coverage for individuals suffering from eating disorders. The group reports that 14 million Americans are affected by anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. Lack of proper insurance coverage is a problem for many of these individuals.
The EDC is seeking to have treatment for eating disorders included as an essential health benefit in the Affordable Care Act. This would require insurers to cover eating disorder treatment costs. Thus far, the EDC’s efforts have been unsuccessful. In early 2012, the group stated in a letter to federal officials, “Despite being biologically based mental illnesses with potentially severe physical health ramifications, including death, eating disorders are all too often found on lists of benefit exclusions.”
Part of the problem in getting insurers to recognize the importance of full coverage for eating disorders may arise from a long-time stigma associated with the condition. Many people believe that the decision to eat or not to eat is entirely within an individual’s control and don’t realize that serious mental health issues that may be involved.