Insurance and Eating Disorders

By Joseph Jacob

Managing and coping with eating disorders is challenging to say the least. The ever-present stigma and a possible lack of support from family or friends can harm these individuals even more. Still, there are many willing to seek out treatments, such as psychotherapy, to end their fight with their eating disorder. However, these treatments are often financially demanding and thus, can keep an individual from seeking proper help (Alderman). For instance, a month long session at a residential treatment center for eating disorders is, on average, $30,000 (Alderman). And because usually several months of necessary treatment rack up a sizable bill, eating disorders can be especially hindering for those who cannot afford medical assistance—whether it be medicinal or psychotherapeutic (Alderman).

Despite the urgency of eating disorders, insurance companies are often reluctant to cover the costs for treatment (“Securing Eating Disorders Treatment”). Curiously, these inpatient treatments can be cost-effective provided that the patient completes the full course (“Securing Eating Disorders Treatment”). However, insurance companies deny many with eating disorders because of its emotional and psychological origin (Kulkarni). This mindset that prioritizes physical diseases over mental illnesses, however, is inconsiderate for a variety of reasons. Take, for instance, eating disorders. They are serious conditions with serious mental and physiological consequences including depression, organ failure, and death.

Therefore, companies that refuse to insure those with eating disorders pose a serious issue: extra costs create barriers for these individuals from getting help. Thus, it is imperative that we push to improve how health insurance companies approach those with eating disorders. These corporations may feel—due to misinformation or misconceptions based on stigma—that eating disorders are not as serious as say, cardiovascular disease or cancer. However, they can be. Eating disorders—anorexia nervosa in particular—have the greatest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. Anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and EDNOS all put the body in a great deal of physical stress and unbalance due to improper or lack of nutrition. Still, financial protection for these disorders is sporadic at best.

It is important to note that not all insurance companies deny those with eating disorders. However, those that don’t place significant limits on the number of visits a patient may have to eating disorder specialists or psychiatrists (“How to Fight for Coverage”). Additionally, these companies use BMI as an indicator of the “wellness” of patients as opposed to judging their psychiatric wellness— that is to say, many insurance companies focus on the quantitative progress of a patient instead of their emotional successes (“How to Fight for Coverage”). This can be dangerous if a patient with an acceptable BMI (>18.5) is classified as “well,” even if, psychologically speaking, they are not. In this case, the potential for relapse is high, and they will have to go through treatment again (“How to Fight for Coverage”). Nevertheless, inpatient treatments and therapy often come with costs unsubsidized by insurance companies and thus, keep individuals who wish to improve their condition from seeking out help. Improvements are certainly necessary on both the part of insurance companies and within the political front. Because eating disorders can be as serious as autoimmune diseases, heart illnesses, or neurological disorders, they thus should be treated to the same extent as physical illnesses.



Alderman, Lesley. “Treating Eating Disorders and Paying for It.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Dec. 2010. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

“How to Fight for Coverage of Eating Disorder Treatment.” NASDAQ, 7 Jan. 2013. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

Kulkarni, Shefali S. “Eating Disorders Often Leave Patients Facing Difficult Insurance Hurdles.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 17 Oct. 2014.

“Securing Eating Disorders Treatment.” National Eating Disorders Association. NEDA, n.d. Web. 19 Oct. 2014.

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