Navigating the Cost of Eating Disorder Treatment

If you’ve had any experience with eating disorder treatment, you’re probably aware that treatment is extremely expensive… and insurance coverage for specialized care is often limited. In today’s blog post, let’s talk about navigating the cost of eating disorder treatment.

Some treatment protocols extend for months or even years. There may be bills from multiple providers since treatment teams can involve a therapist, psychiatrist, dietician, and a medical doctor. Few specialized providers take insurance*. Multiple appointments weekly, navigating from one session to the next, and in some cases, travel to far away programs for intensive care… It’s no surprise that treatment can cost you, both in terms of time and money.

But sometimes, less is more. Here are a few points to consider about the cost of eating disorder treatment:

Gold Standard Treatments Are Time and Cost-Efficient

The vast majority of eating disorder cases can be safely treated in an outpatient setting with one-on-one therapy. According to the research, the most effective treatment for bulimia and binge eating is 20 weeks duration and consists of one-on-one sessions with a single provider [therapist]. For anorexia, a similar treatment applies over the course of 40-weeks. Involved, time intensive [expensive] programming or travel to far away residential programs are necessary in certain cases – in particular if there are acute medical concerns. But most of the time, focused treatment in your home environment is the best course.

Extensive Programming Is Not Always Necessary

Depending on where you go for assessment, you will likely get dramatically different recommendations. For example, in certain treatment settings, an individual with bulimia nervosa who is purging daily, might easily be referred to a Day Treatment program or Partial Hospital program – even if the individual is medically stable. Many experts, however, would argue (as would the research) that the most effective and efficient treatment is 20-sessions of Enhanced CBT. You can only imagine the cost differential between these two distinct interventions. Forget about the time commitment and life disruption of going into a full Day Program.

Behavior Change – Early On

Eating disorder treatment should involve early change. Within the first six to eight weeks of treatment, there should be significant shifts in food/weight-related behaviors. If not, then swiftly, treatment should be adjusted accordingly.   Many longer-term outpatient therapy interventions (like psychodynamic psychotherapy, “talk therapy”) can lead to emotional growth and healing over time but stabilizing an eating disorder needs to happen fast. Therefore, any issues that are not immediately impacting eating, should be put aside in the service of stabilizing eating and health. I don’t mean to be crass, but focused, changed-oriented, faster moving treatment invariably will be easier on your wallet… among other significant advantages.

Alternative To Hospitalization for Kids and Teens

For adolescents and children, Family Based Treatment is the gold standard. It involves once weekly family meetings structured to support parents in helping their child restore weight. FBT is an alternative to hospitalization for acutely ill kids/teens. Inpatient or residential programs are $1500-2000 plus per day. FBT runs at fraction of the cost (about 10-15% of the cost to be exact). 

The Bottom Line About the Cost of Eating Disorder Treatment

So the bottom line is that it’s important to do your research and to fully understand the specific treatment orientations used to treat eating disorders. Be sure you don’t sign on for more than you really need. Understand the time frame for the treatment before you start. Be sure that you understand the different levels of care and what options you have given your specific condition.

*Note: Columbus Park is in-network with Aetna and CHP (Consolidated Health Plans) insurance. In-network coverage means considerable less cost for treatment. Check with your plan to find out your co-pay and if you have any co-insurance or deductible.

If you don’t have Aetna or CHP but are insurance by a different carrier, you may be able to get coverage through an out-of-network benefit.  We are hoping/planning to add work with more insurance carriers in the near future.