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Vitale Bill To Require Insurance Coverage For Eating Disorders Advances

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would require all health insurers in New Jersey and the State Health Benefits Plan (SHBP) to provide the same insurance coverage for the treatment of eating disorders as it applies to other biologically-based mental illnesses was approved by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today.

“According to The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, nearly 8 million people around the country – or about 3 percent of the country’s population – suffer from eating disorders,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, and Chairman of the Senate Health panel. “These are not cases of someone going to the gym more than they should, or skipping a dessert every now and then – these are people who need treatment for serious, potentially life-threatening mental illness. Insurance providers have a responsibility to cover the treatment that people need in order to overcome the epidemic of eating disorders, and in New Jersey, we want to hold them to that responsibility.”

The bill, S-1940, would require all insurers to provide insurance coverage for all eating disorders under the same terms and conditions as provided for any other biologically-based mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or autism. The bill defines “eating disorders” to include anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorder, among others. Many insurers already cover eating disorders under the terms used for non-biologically-based mental illnesses, but as such, coverage is limited to a maximum of $10,000 per calendar year and $20,000 for the entire period of coverage under the plan.

“The current standards for eating disorder insurance coverage simply aren’t good enough for people really suffering with the disease,” said Senator Vitale. “Treatment for some of the most severe eating disorders can be costly, and it can take a long time to see results. Insurers shouldn’t put a double-standard on people’s health, and should make sure that eating disorders are covered under the same terms and conditions as other biologically-based mental illnesses.”

Recently, some insurers have begun covering eating disorders under the terms used for biological mental illness. Aetna has settled all litigation, and currently recognizes eating disorders as biological. Also, on November 24, Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield entered into a settlement on a class-action lawsuit, and will provide treatment parity for eating disorders going into the future.

“Some insurers are already following their consciences and doing the right thing in terms of coverage parity for eating disorders,” said Senator Vitale. “For those insurers still bucking the trend and refusing to provide sufficient coverage, we need to give them a push. This legislation is that push, and would ensure that equal coverage for eating disorder treatment – on par with other biologically-based mental disorders – would be the law of the land in the Garden State.”

The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for consideration.