Eating Disorder Policy: The Anna Westin Act
Eating disorder sufferers have historically had major difficultly getting adequate care due to insurance companies denying coverage or medical professionals lacking proper education. Learn more about The Anna Westin Act, the first and only act passed designated to aid those with eating disorders.
by: Kristin Burmeister
The Anna Westin Act is the first and only act passed in the United States that is specifically designated to aid those with eating disorders. The bill was first written in 2014, partially in response to the failure to pass the Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act in 2013. The FREED Act proposed funding various eating disorder research initiatives, prevention efforts in schools, and would increase insurance coverage for eating disorder treatment . The act would mandate insurance must cover the level and kind of treatment recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, would require coverage of all treatment modalities, and would require Medicaid to cover eating disorder treatment . While the FREED Act would have greatly helped those with eating disorders, the act failed to pass in 2014 due partially to the high cost of the changes the act would require and due to the political climate not supporting of mental health legislation overall at the time . Therefore, the Anna Westin Act was created to make an act that would both help those with eating disorders also be able to be passed by congress.
The Anna Westin Act has two main provisions. The first is to allocate government funds for eating disorder training for healthcare professionals by creating grants awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These grants must be used for training health care professionals in eating disorder prevention, detection, treatment, and/or how to refer patients to eating disorder treatment . The second provision is to create greater coverage of eating disorder treatment through additions to existing insurance laws. The mental health parity law was amended to specifically include residential treatment to be included in mental health and substance use disorder benefits . This ensures that insurance companies cover residential eating disorders treatment at a comparable rate to their coverage for residential treatment for physical ailments. Therefore, the Anna Westin Act is a policy that created positive change for those with eating disorders through allocating funds for eating disorder trainings and creating greater insurance parity for residential treatment.
The Anna Westin Act was introduced to congress in 2015. The main efforts to pass this bill were coordinated by Kitty Westin and the Eating Disorder Coalition. Kitty Westin is the mother of Anna Westin, for whom the act is named after. Anna Westin developed anorexia at the age of 16 and received outpatient treatment, however she relapsed in college and was referred to inpatient treatment by a doctor but her insurance denied her coverage . Shortly after being denied coverage, in 2000, Anna Westin committed suicide as a result of her battle with anorexia. Her parents sued the insurance company and won and her mother turned her grief into advocacy. Kitty Westin worked alongside with the Eating Disorder Coalition to increase federal activism for the act by coordinating meetings with representatives, encouraging people to send letters and make phone calls to representatives, and increasing social media support for the act . Overall, these efforts lead to a success. The Anna Westin Act was passed by the House of Representatives in a 422-2 vote in July of 2016, was passed by the Senate in a 94 to 5 vote in December of 2016, and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on December 13, 2016 .
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This post was written by BALANCE blog intern Kristin Burmeister.
Kristin is a graduate student studying social work at Case Western Reserve Universtiy. Her own recovery journey inspired her to want to help others who struggle with eating disorders. In the future, she hopes to work as a clinical social worker with a focus on eating disorder treatment.