An article appeared on NYTimes.com last week regarding the staggering cost of eating disorder treatment, and the fact that most insurance companies won’t pay for it.
Insurance companies deny coverage on the grounds that there is not enough evidence on how to best treat eating disorders. The article above contains a story about a family who exhausted their entire retirement savings on their daughter’s therapy at 10 different treatment centers. This is heartbreaking, as I’m sure the family put their hope and trust in all 10 centers, hoping each one would be the one to cure their daughter. No family should have to go through that, or spend that much money on ineffective treatment. However, I am not convinced insurance companies should foot the bill either if there is not enough evidence to back the treatments.
When I was in college, I longed to go into a residential treatment center. I thought an inpatient program could “save me from myself” so to speak, by supervising me around the clock, insuring that I could not binge and purge. I felt like I needed a 24/7 babysitter to force me to control myself. It wasn’t the psychotherapy at a residential center that I longed for – I was already receiving that in an outpatient setting, and I was already doing a lot of emotional work outside of therapy. What I truly wanted was for someone to lock me up, not allow me private access to a refrigerator, a car, or money; because I simply couldn’t trust myself.
However,I knew my family couldn’t afford it. I know they would have found a way if I would have expressed a strong desire to go inpatient, but I never asked because I didn’t want to put that kind of financial burden on them (As the article above states, a month of inpatient treatment can cost $30,000).
Would the cost have been worth it to stop my behavior? I don’t think so, because I don’t think it would have affected lasting change. Back then, I didn’t know how to deal with my urges to binge, so I probably would have began binge eating again after being discharged. A month in a treatment center would not have been long enough to allow my brain to rewire and my urges to disappear, and I know I could never have afforded more time.
My family did spend a significant amount of money on my ineffective therapy, but it did not drain their savings; and I am thankful for that. Regardless of who pays for eating disorder treatment, the bottom line is: we need treatments that work. When parents or insurance companies put their money and trust in treatment, they should get the desired result.