Eating Disorders, California Health and Safety Code Section 1254.5, Mental Health Parity Acts

California Law Displays Understanding of Eating Disorders
That Insurers Should Emulate
Insurance companies that routinely misunderstand eating disorders should pay attention to California Health and Safety Code Section 1254.5, which provides a refreshing perspective on the nature and treatment of eating disorders. In its findings under Section 1254.5, the California Legislature states, “[T]he disease of eating disorders is not simply medical or psychiatric but involves biological, sociological, psychological, family, medical, and spiritual components. . . . the treatment of eating disorders is multifaceted, and like the treatment of chemical dependency, does not fall neatly into either the traditional medical or psychiatric milieu.”

This legislative comment reflects what we find in our law practice representing clients suffering from eating disorders whose treatment should be covered by their health insurance. We often explain to insurance companies, mediators, and judges how residential treatment for an eating disorder involves intensive treatment of the psychological mindset that perpetuates the eating disorder. Treatment is not limited to the mental aspects; it also involves frequent monitoring of the disorder’s physical symptoms through blood work and weight gain. Education on nutrition and exercise also gives patients the tools to stay in recovery when discharged from treatment facilities.

Combined with Mental Health Parity Acts, such as California’s codified in Insurance Code Section 10144.5, the Section 1254.5 language supports our arguments that treatment for an eating disorder is truly multi-faceted and often residential treatment is the only means for conquering an eating disorder.

Section 1254.5 will not create coverage where it didn’t exist or force an insurance company to pay a claim. But it can increase awareness and recognition in the legal forum when presented to courts and insurance companies.

— Elizabeth Green

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