21st Century Cures Act: New Law Promises More Help for Families With Eating Disorders
For the first time in U.S. history, legislation that includes provisions specifically designed to help people with eating disorders passed votes by both Congress and the Senate. President Barak Obama recently signed the bill into law. “This legislation will have a profound impact on the millions of Americans experiencing eating disorders and will help ensure they will not be denied access to the same mental health services as those facing other types of illnesses,” said West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R). Within the bipartisan 21st Century Cures and Mental Health Reform Package were key provisions from the Anna Westin Act of 2015 that sought to improve health insurance coverage for eating disorders and residential treatment, increase training for health professionals in the identification of EDs, and enhance information and resources available to the public. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) said, “Passing our bipartisan legislation into law brings us one step closer to preventing future tragedies and giving clients the tools they need to get help.”
Anna Westin’s Legacy
“Millions of Americans suffer from eating disorders, but very few get the help they need. Anna Westin, who this bill is named for, died after struggling with an eating disorder for several years. Her mom, Kitty, lives in my state and has been a leading voice in the effort to do more to support clients,” said Senator Klobuchar. When the bill passed, activist Kitty Westin, the mother of Anna Westin, and a board member of the Eating Disorders Coalition added, “This has been an incredibly long journey that started for me the day Anna died over 16 years ago. It has taken 16 years to accomplish what we did today, pass eating disorders specific legislation.”
Anna Westin grew up in the small town of Chaska, Minnesota. When she was 16, Anna developed anorexia. After seeking outpatient treatment for her eating disorder, she and her family thought her treatment was successful, but years later, when Anna returned home from college, her parents realized that she had relapsed and that she was suffering from extreme anorexia. Anna’s doctor told the family that she should be hospitalized immediately, but their insurance company refused to cover inpatient treatment. Not long after this, Anna died from suicide.
The Fight to Be Understood
“One day she was doing well. The next it felt like we were stuck in some kind of bobsled ride from hell,” Kitty Westin told the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages. “We were fighting with the insurance company. We were fighting with each other because there was so much stress, anxiety, fear, and anger… It was so lonely, so horrific when she died, it’s indescribable,” Kitty said. “For years, I have been an advocate, fighting fiercely so nobody suffers like Anna or our family has. I want to save people from the horror of burying a child.”
Describing her battle for coverage, Kitty Westin said, “I don’t think insurance companies are inherently evil. I think often times they just don’t get it. They’re hesitant to cover what they think is expensive care. My job is to help them get it.”
According to Kitty, insurance companies have often dealt with mental illness treatment with a “fail first” approach. “Imagine if your wife had stage three breast cancer -only to have the insurance company say, ‘It’s only stage three. Let’s try this [lower level of] care instead.’ That wouldn’t happen. You wouldn’t fail first.”
The Anna Westin House, the first residential eating disorders program in Minnesota, opened its doors in 2002. The Anna Westin Act of 2015 was written to help people with eating disorders get the care they need by focusing on improved training and clarity of mental health parity. The House of Representatives version of the Anna Westin Act also included the truth in advertising act, a small inter-agency study that looks at digitally altered images of humans as they relate to fair advertising practices. These were the three main components of the original bill.
- Training: The Anna Westin Act of 2015 helped prevent eating disorders by using existing NIMH and SAMHSA funds to provide training for health professionals and school personnel to identify eating disorders and intervene early when precursory symptoms and behaviors arise.
- Clarity of Mental Health Parity: The Anna Westin Act of 2015 aimed to provide better health insurance treatment coverage for those affected by eating disorders. The legislation clarified the intent of former Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) to include residential treatment services in their past bipartisan legislation, the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (the Parity Law), which required insurance providers to cover people with mental illness equally as those with other health issues.
- Truth in Advertising: The House bill (H.R. 2515) required the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a small inter-agency study and report on digitally altered images of humans and fair advertising practices.
Victory, at Last
After a version of the bill finally passed, under the banner of the 21st Century Cures Act, Johanna Kandel, Board President of the Eating Disorders Coalition and CEO of Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness, said, “After 16 years of advocating on Capitol Hill, today the voices of the more than 30 million Americans struggling with eating disorders were heard. My deepest gratitude to our champions on the hill, as well as members of Congress for hearing their constituents and voting, on this nonpartisan issue. This legislation will save thousands of lives. It is alongside the tireless effort of many advocates, that we celebrate the passage of this first legislation impacting the treatment and early intervention of eating disorders.”
“The journey was often painful, frustrating, exhausting and incredibly sad, but it has always been a journey of love,” Kitty Westin said. “Love for Anna, love for all the others who have lost their battle with an eating disorder and love for all those who are suffering. While I understand that the journey is far from over, I celebrate this great accomplishment that will help millions of people just like Anna.”
Recovery is Possible
If you believe your child could be suffering from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or a serious mental health disorder, call Center for Discovery now at 800.760.3934. Our proven approach to behavior modification is personalized and tailored to fit your family’s needs. We’ve been helping families find their way to recovery and lifelong healing for nearly 20 years. Call today and speak with one of our highly trained admission specialists. Or click on the link below for a FREE assessment or virtual tour to see the treatment center closest to you. All calls are completely FREE and strictly confidential.
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Center for Discovery provides integrated multi-faceted methods of care that range from residential treatment, intensive outpatient programs, to partial hospitalization programs for adults, adolescents, and teens that are struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, and most major mental health disorders.
Eating Disorders Coalition: Congress Makes History by Passing First-Ever Eating Disorders Legislation. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages: Kitty Westin wants to save parents from having to bury a child, by Cory Zurowski. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
Self Magazine: Congress Just Passed The First Ever Eating Disorder Legislation, by Haley Goldberg. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
New York Times: Sweeping Health Measure, Backed by Obama, Passes Senate, by Jennifer Steinhauer and Robert Pear. Retrieved December 21, 2016.
The Energy and Commerce Committee: Text of H.R. 6, 21st Century Cures Act. Retrieved December 21, 2016.