How One State Is Improving Eating-Disorder Care

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Last week, Missouri became the first state to require that health-insurance companies provide comprehensive coverage for eating-disorder treatment. The new law, which will go into effect this August, expands the definition of “medically necessary” treatment to include mental-health therapy— meaning insurers will be required to cover both physical and mental treatment for eating disorders.

Significantly, the law also stipulates that a patient’s weight will no longer be considered the sole factor in determining whether they need treatment — another change intended to emphasize that eating disorders are mental-health issues and should be treated as such. Experts believe that failing to address the mental-health component of eating disorders puts patients at an increased risk for relapse and suicide.

Many states, including Missouri, have existing mental-health parity laws, which require insurance companies to provide equal benefits for treatment of mental illness and physical ailments. Yet, in practice, such laws are vague, leaving much up to the interpretation of the insurance companies, which often results in denied coverage for mental-health care.

“Like many mental health problems, a person suffering from an eating disorder may have no outward signs of their struggle,” Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said in a statement. “By requiring insurance companies to consider comprehensive health needs to these individuals, and not just their weight, we can help Missourians struggling with these disorders receive the care they need to recover.” Under the new law, insurance companies have until 2017 to implement the changes.