Equality for Eating Disorders

by Ashley Solomon

Walking among hundreds of mental health professionals, consumers, and families on a beautiful Sunday morning, I got that indefinable feeling in my chest – the one that feels like happiness mixed with pride mixed with humility. I’m sure some of you know the feeling I’m trying describe.

Justin and I at 2010 NAMIWalks

My husband, Justin, and I were participating in the Greater Philadelphia NAMIWalks, an annual fundraiser to support the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Despite being a strong supporter for NAMI and other likeminded organizations, I realized recently that my support has usually been from afar. This is not to say that my advocacy efforts have been in vain. I believe the work that I do on a daily basis does in fact serve as a strong message of support for those with mental illness and those who care about them.

Once in a while, however, I am reminded of just how important it is to take a more active role in mental health advocacy. This is particularly true as I watch suffering individuals get denied insurance coverage for mental health issues and see families left struggling with decisions about whether to beg, steal, or borrow in order to continue treatment for their loved ones. These are decisions that no person or family should have to make.

Due to the incredible efforts of organizations like NAMI, as well as committed government officials and laypeople, October 2008 saw the passage of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. This landmark legislation now requires that insurance companies that offer mental health benefits provide coverage on-par with medical and surgical coverage. This means that mental health and substance use disorders must be treated equally in terms of out-of-pocket costs, benefit limits, and other practices, such as utilization review. The MHPAEA finally prevented the discrimination of individuals with serious and sometimes life-threatening illness from receiving adequate treatment.

While this was a historic victory for mental health, it unfortunately continues to leave out some of the most vulnerable victims of mental illness. Specifically, individuals with eating disorders continue to struggle to receive adequate coverage for treatment. In many states (approximately 60%, including Ohio and Pennsylvania) eating disorder diagnoses are not included among the list of diagnoses currently considered “biologically-based” and thus not required to be covered. This is despite the growing body of research indicating that eating disorders are highly heritable and likely have the same level of genetic influence as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. This is not even exploring the fact that the vast majority of fatal illnesses (e.g. heart disease, COPD) can be linked to behavior-based causes themselves.

This means that individuals struggling with the most lethal of all mental illnesses can be denied treatment even when they have health insurance!

Can you imagine telling someone dying from kidney failure that their illness doesn’t make the cut, and thus they will be forced to suffer in silence or sell a limb on the black market?

So what is there to be done? Glad you asked! Likely the most important step we can all take toward parity is to support organizations that work tirelessly to ensure equal treatment for people who are suffering with eating disorders. I’ve included some below, and I hope that you’ll take a minute to check out their websites and discover more about the important work that they are doing. Then, if you feel so inclined, donate some of your financial resources, time, and/or energy to making a difference in an untold number of lives.

Check These Out!

Eating Disorder Coalition

Academy for Eating Disorders

National Eating Disorder Association

A Toolkit for Parents –   Very helpful in working with insurance companies!

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One Comment to “Equality for Eating Disorders”

  1. Keep fighting the good fight Ashley! You do way more than you’ll ever realize. Being a part of association management for four years I know volunteering on the boards and committees of these organizations opens a lot of doors. You should explore that once you get into your career a bit more. Advocacy and lobbying for these issues goes a long way!

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