It's a Big Week in the World of Eating Disorders!by Jillian Lampert, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D., F.A.E.D.
For the first time in the history of Congress, eating disorders specific language will be included in federal law. What an amazing victory for people with eating disorders and their families! The world of legislation is a complicated road, with numerous twists and turns, but in this case the twists and turns resulted in a beautifully tied bow for people with eating disorders, their families and those that take care of them.
How did this happen? On Wednesday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the 21st Century Cures Act 94-5. The House passed it the previous week, 392-26. On Tuesday, Dec 13th, this Act will be signed into law by President Obama.
Why do we care about the 21st Century Cures Act? Because, among many other things, it includes language from the Anna Westin Act of 2015. This language, centered around training of health professionals in eating disorders and clarifying that mental health parity does indeed apply to eating disorders, was incorporated into the Mental Health reform language that is part of the 21st Century Cures Act. Since that bill has passed both houses, for the first time in the history of Congress, eating disorders specific language will be included in federal law.
Enough about the legislative cartwheels, already, what does the bill say?? Simply put, the bill allows for expansion of federally funded health professional training on eating disorders recognition and treatment and clarifies that exclusion of eating disorders treatment from insurance policies is not allowed under mental health parity. What will it do? That is also simple, but so incredibly powerful. It will save lives.
How will it save lives?
a. Expand training: The training of health professionals in early recognition of eating disorders will save lives. All too often, we hear from clients and families that health professionals didn’t intervene early enough, did not recognize the signs and symptoms of eating disorders, and didn’t know what to do when they did. As a result, people suffer needlessly, and all too often, tragically die. This bill will save lives by significantly improving the likelihood that health professionals can get adequate training on eating disorders during their education or via professional trainings. This training will be paid for by existing federal agency funds. The bill allows, for the first time, these funds to be used for grants related to training of health professionals in eating disorders.
b. Improve access to care: Mental health parity – or treating physical and mental illnesses equally – became the law in 2008, but some insurance companies have continued to exclude eating disorders treatment, specifically residential treatment, because they believed this was acceptable under mental health parity. This bill clarifies that it is not acceptable to do so. This change will afford people access to the care they need, at all levels, and take out barriers to access that so many have faced.
To sum it all up, the legacy of Anna Westin and all those that have died from an eating disorder, is honored and preserved in federal law through this legislation. It is an amazing accomplishment on the part of so many who used their voices to tell Congress that we need to change things for people with eating disorders and their families. Kitty Westin, Anna’s mom, was in the Senate gallery this past Wednesday, watching as 94% of Senators agreed that it’s been far too long and far too many have lost their lives. It was an honor to see hope and love shine in her face as she watched the ‘aye’ votes roll in and know that truly, our voices raised up together, can create life-saving change. Together, using our voices, we really can change the world.