A federal bill passed last week may ultimately help expand treatment options for the tens of thousands of West Virginians who will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime, officials say.
The 21 Century Cures Act, which, along with the Mental Health Reform Act of 2016, passed the Senate with a 94-5 vote last week and is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama today, contains key aspects of the Anna Westin Act, a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
The act, among other things, clarifies existing law that says health insurance plans must cover inpatient treatment for patients with eating disorders. The legislation is the first of its kind that aims specifically to help people with eating disorders, officials say.
“Many years of hard work are represented with today’s passage of the Anna Westin Act,” Capito wrote in a statement about the bill’s passage. “This legislation will have a profound impact on the millions of Americans experiencing eating disorders and will help ensure they will not be denied access to the same mental health services as those facing other types of illnesses.
“I am proud of the role I was able to play in passing this bill, and thank the family of Anna Westin, who the bill is named for, for all they have done in support of this groundbreaking legislation.”
The act was named for Anna Westin, a Minnesota native who struggled with anorexia for five years and died at age 21.
An eating disorder is defined as a psychological disorder characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. Some of the most common are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
It’s estimated more than 60,000 West Virginians will meet the criteria for an eating disorder at some point in their lives. That estimate comes from the Eating Disorders Coalition and is based on the state’s population.
Dr. Jessica Luzier, clinical director at the West Virginia University Disordered Eating Center of Charleston, said the guarantee of health insurance coverage may help open the door for the development of inpatient and residential eating disorder treatment facilities in West Virginia. The state currently has no inpatient facilities for eating disorders.
The DECC, the state’s most comprehensive treatment facility for eating disorders, does have the ability to hospitalize patients for medical or psychological needs, but it is not an inpatient facility, Luzier said.
Residential and inpatient facilities often are needed for patients with the most severe cases of eating disorders, she said.
It’s better to catch eating disorders early — within the first year of developing — so less intensive care is needed, she said.
“Unfortunately, many patients with eating disorders have been suffering for years, even decades,” Luzier said. “Therefore, inpatient and residential treatments provide intensive, 24-hour care to best meet these patients’ medical and nutritional needs, plus to support them in making terrifying behavioral changes in the service of their health and recovery.”
Eating disorders will affect approximately 30 million Americans in their lifetimes, according to the Eating Disorders Coalition. Most of those people will never receive treatment, the coalition says. Only about one-third of people with eating disorders ever receive treatment, according to the coalition.
Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescent girls, but they don’t only affect young girls. Males and females of all ages, races and economic classes are affected by eating disorders, the coalition says.
Luzier said the best way to prevent an eating disorder is to teach young children about size diversity and healthy behavior.
“We want to teach children to value their bodies by feeding them nutritious meals, participating in meaningful movement, and taking care of their health [doctor visits, etc.].” she said. “We also want to ensure that the messages people receive from the media and medical providers are focused on health promotion, and not encouraging kids to diet excessively or to accept a specific body type as the ‘right’ body type.”
For more information about eating disorders, visit http://www.eating disorderscoalition.org.
Reach Lori Kersey at
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