Congress Passes First Ever Bill To Direct Address Eating Disorders

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For the first time in history, eating disorders have been recognized in a piece of federal legislation. Last week, Congress passed a bill called the 21st Century Cures Act, part of which is directed at improving access to treatment and increasing eating disorder prevention efforts.

Current estimates suggest up to 30 million people in the US will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their life. This number is incredibly dangerous as eating disorders, anorexia in particular, have a higher mortality rate than any other form of mental illness.

In 2008, legislation was passed requiring insurance companies to provide equal coverage for mental health care and physical care, however, the bill neglected to specifically mention eating disorders. Since then, a gap has appeared leaving many without access to treatment for eating disorders. But, the 21st Century Cures Act intends to fix that.

“The passage of this bill will lead to insurance companies having less flexibility to deny coverage for eating disorders that they’re already supposed to be providing through the federal mental health parity law,” Kerry Donohue, public policy manager at the National Eating Disorders Association, told SELF. “It clarifies the original intent that residential treatment for eating disorders is supposed to be included in the federal mental health parity act…and ultimately this will allow people suffering from eating disorders to have better access to treatment.”

According to Donohue, eating disorder treatment can cost up to $30,000 per month. Without insurance coverage, this can be entirely unaffordable for most families or individuals. Donohue says some people have even resorted to refinancing their homes, accruing incredible amounts of debt, or going into bankruptcy to afford eating disorder treatment.

Along with increasing coverage for treatment, the bill also lays out plans to educate medical professionals and the public about early identification of eating disorders.

“Through early detection and better access to treatment, this bill can potentially save lives and reduce the prevalence of these illnesses across the United States,” Donohue said.

While the 21st Century Cures Act has potential to greatly improve eating disorder treatment access and awareness, it also includes provisions addressing many other public health concerns. As the first major piece of legislation on mental health in almost a decade, the bill also increases funding for mental health research, cancer research, addressing the opioid epidemic, and giving grants for psychologists and psychiatrists.

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