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Insurance coverage for eating disorders focus of proposed committee

Lauren Potter ~ Staff~ 2/25/2015

NORTH VALLEY – Establishing a study committee may be a gateway to increasing health insurance coverage for people with eating disorders.

With over a decade of experience as a professional social worker, state lawmaker Katie Hobbs says that insurance coverage for treatment costs is one of the barriers people with eating disorders experience, and that due to the comprehensive nature of treatment programs, the coverage that may be offered by insurance companies is often not enough.

“Eating disorders is an issue that is highly misunderstood,” said Senator Hobbs, D-Phoenix, who has worked as a professional social worker for 12 years.

“It requires very intensive treatment, and often times people need lifetime treatment,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs’ proposed bill SB1427, which is currently not on agenda to be heard, that proposes an eating disorders study committee be established to assess the impact of expanding the insurance coverage of eating disorder-related treatments. The committee would also study the demographics and prevalence of eating disorders in Arizona, as well as their economic impacts.

According to Hobbs, although a bill requiring increased coverage would be “controversial,” an initial study committee can help get some of the controversy out of the way.

“(The study) may also establish an idea for what the future legislation could look like, or maybe even get the insurance companies to address it themselves,” Hobbs said. “Which is great if we could do that.”

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, which originally contacted Hobbs about proposing the bill, eating disorders have the highest death rate of any psychiatric illness. NEDA said the bill is long overdue.

“I’m thrilled that this bill has been introduced,” said Lynn Grefe, NEDA’s president and CEO.

“We have really done our digging and seen that the lack of appropriate insurance coverage is the greatest barrier to successful treatment,” Grefe said.

But an increase in coverage could mean an increase in rates.

“Any time you increase coverage, for example (for) eating disorders, you’re increasing the amount of money insurance companies potentially have to pay out which will impact rates,” said Jereme Bintz, commercial underwriter at EMC Corporation.

“They at the very least need to break even, but really earn a profit,” Bintz said. “If they’re paying more than they’re taking in that doesn’t work.”

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimates that the study committee itself will have “nominal” fiscal impact, likely costing less than $10,000.

According to the committee, this is less than a rounding error in state government.

“The bill is a major step for the state of Arizona,” said Grefe. “We hope they actually take it seriously and take action because people are dying while they’re sitting on this,” she said.

If the bill is not read this session, Hobbs said she will propose it again – doing things differently.

“I would try to have some stakeholder meetings during the interim, try to involve republicans and get them on board with the issue so that next session maybe one of them would be willing to run the bill instead,” Hobbs said.

“It just has a better chance of moving if a Republican is running it,” she said.