Local News

Nutritionists Work On Potential Remedy With Insurance Issues

Posted August 11, 2004 4:20 a.m. EDT

— Some insurance companies in North Carolina offer limited coverage for medical nutrition therapy, but most offer none at all. But, that may be about to change.

When a person suffers an eating disorder, it takes a team of professionals to treat them. The physician and psychiatrist are usually covered by insurance, but a nutritionist in private practice is not.

"You can't just hand someone a diet and say, 'Eat this many calories' because for a person with an eating disorder, food is the enemy," said eating disorder specialist Ellen Morrison.

Morrison said outpatient treatment involves weekly visits for counseling and support. Those visits cost $90 to $100 apiece. All of her patients pay with cash.

"Martine," who asked WRAL to not use her last name, said she knows how costly eating disorder treatment can become. Since her daughter was diagnosed with anorexia six years ago, she estimates she has spent more than $200,000 on treatment.

"Like any parent, you'd do anything to keep your child alive and help them find their way through it. I don't know what people who don't have the means do," Martine said.

Martine said she backs Morrison and a group of dietitians who want insurance companies to cover medical nutrition therapy.

"We're looking at a whole range of things we're doing around that and nutrition counseling is one of the things we're looking at," said Mark Stinneford, of Blue Cross Blue Shield.

A representative said Blue Cross Blue Shield is revamping its coverage and welcomes the dietitians' input. Martine welcomes any financial help for a treatment she says could literally mean life or death for her daughter.

"Our hope now to keep her out of the hospital is nutritionists who can gain her confidence, who can say, 'You have to eat this. You have to trust us,'" she said.

Dietitians believe their treatment is far less costly than the alternative -- hospitalization for a major health crisis. They do not seem to be getting any argument from Blue Cross Blue Shield. The company plans to meet with the dietitians and announce a new initiative in the fall.

Eating disorders are associated with serious physical health consequences, including heart disease, kidney failure, osteoporosis, tooth decay, diabetes and death. They are also linked to substantial psychological problems, such as depression, substance abuse and suicide.