Insurance Coverage for Bulimia Treatment
Insurance plans provided under the Affordable Care Act, as well as those provided by Medicaid, offer coverage for bulimia, including bulimia complicated by addiction, but almost every insurance plan comes with limitations. People hoping to use insurance to pay for care should call the plan directly to ensure that treatment is covered.
Eating disorders are mental health disorders that approximately 24 million people across the United States suffer from, per DoSomething.
Bulimia is an eating disorder that is characterized by binge-and-purge cycles wherein individuals take in large amount of food and then attempt to purge those calories via vomiting, exercise, or other measures. Per a study published in the journal, Psychological Medicine, around 44 percent of individuals diagnosed with bulimia also had a substance abuse problem. For those suffering from both bulimia and substance abuse issues, treatment that addresses both disorders is essential.
Insurance plans provided under the Affordable Care Act, as well as Medicaid, offer substance abuse treatment and mental health coverage that would extend to treatment for bulimia and addiction. That being said, all plans come with limitations.
Bulimia treatment often mandates residential care due to the likelihood of individuals needing fairly constant supervision. The first step in the process is often finding a treatment center that participates with a client’s insurance company.
What are the Signs of Bulimia?
Eating disorders often have very little to do with an obsession to be pretty or thin. Rather, bulimia is a mental health condition that actually alters the way individuals see themselves. Bodily distortion is a major part of the illness. The obsessive urge to lose weight only dissipates when individuals seek treatment, not when they lose weight.
Since bulimia involves a binge-and-purge cycle, those who suffer from the disorder may not be underweight. Oftentimes, those with bulimia appear of normal weight or even overweight. Common signs and symptoms of bulimia include:
- Getting up from meals to use the bathroom on a regular basis
- Avoiding eating in the presence of other people
- An obsession with weighing oneself
- Dental damage from recurrent vomiting
- Periods of overeating
- Excessive exercising
- Puffiness in the cheeks caused by swollen salivary glands — a consequence of frequent vomiting
- Using and abusing laxatives and diuretics
- Significant weight fluctuations
- Food keeps turning up missing or hidden in strange places
How is Bulimia Treated?
Many people suffer from eating disorders in silence. Bulimia affects far more young people than older individuals and also has a tendency to occur in females more often than in males. Around 90 percent of diagnosed cases are women, the Bulimia Nervosa Resource Guide states.
There are many misconceptions about eating disorders. Bulimia isn’t about starvation so much as it is control. Often, individuals who suffer from this disorder feel they have little control over other upsetting events in their lives, and they find their intake, or purging, of food to be something they can control.
Typical bulimia behavior includes binging on large amounts of food, often high-calorie or high-fat food, and then inducing vomiting to purge the body of the food. Sometimes, individuals take laxatives or exercise excessively in an effort to purge the calories. Bingeing sessions are often followed by feelings of shame or disgust that motivate the purging sessions.
What’s the Cost of Bulimia Care?
The price of treating bulimia varies according to how long the person needs treatment and what types of interventions are necessary. The Bulimia Nervosa Resource Guide reports the price of treating bulimia alone for just one month through a partial hospitalization program can cost as much as $50,000; however, more affordable treatment options are also available.
Partial hospitalization programs are often run 5-7 days a week and for up to 12 hours at a time. Full residential programs require that clients live on site for the duration of treatment. Medical detox and subsequent continued care can add several thousand dollars onto an already high treatment bill. For that reason, people struggling with substance abuse and mental illness need reliable insurance.
Treating Co-Occurring Addiction
Many who suffer with mental illnesses like bulimia also battle substance use disorders. This kind of co-occurring illness isn’t uncommon.
In fact, around 29 percent of the mentally ill population abuses drugs and/or alcohol, Psych Central reports.
The cost of going without treatment is far greater than the price associated with getting help. Bulimia can cause infertility and even cardiac arrest. Left untreated, bulimia can even lead to death. One analysis notes a 3.9 percent crude mortality rate among individuals suffering from bulimia, according to the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Many individuals who suffer from bulimia and addiction started out abusing drugs that they felt would aid them in their weight loss efforts. Drugs like Adderall and cocaine are commonly associated with the ability to effortless drop pounds due to the effect they have on severely reducing appetite. NBC News reported in 2008 that the trend of abusing stimulants like Adderall to lose weight was becoming problematic among American females.
Sadly, just one out of every 10 people who suffer from an eating disorder ever get help for it, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders notes. A lack of widespread treatment options may be partially to blame. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a survey of 351 publicly funded substance abuse treatment centers noted only 50 percent of them even screened clients for eating disorders and just 14 percent of facilities that did complete screening used any kind of formal instrumentation to do so. Often, a person’s insurance company can provide adequate referrals for both types of treatment.
How Insurance Factors into Treatment
Most insurance companies offer coverage for the treatment of bulimia and substance abuse. Generally, such coverage will encompass services like:
- Lab work
- Urine tests for screening purposes
- Physical exams
- Liver testing
- Dietary programs
- Nutritional counseling
- Prescription medications
When speaking with the insurance company, be sure to verify what benefits a policy provides. Ask the insurance provider questions like:
- Is there a percentage of treatment that the insured member is required to pay? When is this payment due?
- Has the policy deductible been met? If not, individuals need to be prepared to pay the full cost of the deductible before any payments are made toward covered services.
- Are the medications needed for treatment approved by the insurer?
- Are both inpatient and outpatient treatment covered?
- How many days of addiction treatment are covered?
In some instances, if a person can present proof of income and financial hardship, rehab facilities may allow for payment plans or sliding scale payment options.
Disclaimer: AAC facilities do not treat bulimia.