Our guest blogger is Katrina Womble, an intern at the Center for American Progress.
Last week, February 26 to March 3, was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The National Institute of Mental Health defines an eating disorder as an “illness that causes serious disturbances to your everyday diet, such as eating extremely small amounts of food or severely overeating.” In the United States, up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia.
Although eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment. This low incidence of treatment for eating disorders is often the result of inadequate protections in federal and state laws. The federal mental health parity law only requires health insurance plans that already offer mental health coverage to provide the same level of benefits for mental illnesses as for other physical illnesses and diseases. This law does not mandate that group plans must provide mental health coverage and the law also allows states to determine which mental illnesses will be covered.
While some state laws provide comprehensive coverage for all mental illnesses (such as Arkansas), some states limit the coverage to “serious mental illnesses” or a specific list of “biologically based” mental illnesses (like Iowa’s does). These categories have been used by states and insurance companies to restrict or exclude individuals, including those suffering from eating disorders, from receiving life-saving treatment.