Barely a month after her daughter Anna succumbed to anorexia nervosa in February 2000, Kitty Westin somehow found a way to tap a deep personal reservoir of courage. “This can’t happen anymore. We can’t let Anna have died in vain,” Westin vowed as she sat with a Star Tribune reporter in her Chaska home. “There has to be some good and empowerment that comes of her death.’’
Kitty Westin never wavered in the nearly 17 years that have passed, working in Minnesota and nationally to aid those with the eating disorder that claimed 21-year-old Anna’s life. Last week, that work culminated in vital new protections for those seeking treatment for the disease.
Tucked in with the sprawling 21st Century Cures Act, which easily cleared both houses of Congress during the 2016 lame-duck session, was the “Anna Westin Act.” The new protections require group insurance plans to cover residential treatment for mental health conditions, such as eating disorders. The Westins were waiting for their insurer to greenlight such treatment when Anna died.
The coverage requirements build on a 2008 law. The Mental Health Parity Act requires insurers to treat mental illness the same as physical illnesses, but enforcement has lagged. The Anna Westin Act clarifies that this includes eating disorders, expediting intense treatment. The law also will bolster training opportunities and funding for providers who treat eating disorders.
The new patient protections had lingered in congressional limbo but thankfully got a boost when Sen. Amy Klobuchar reached out to her women colleagues to support the bill. Many of them knew someone affected by an eating disorder and understood how dangerous these conditions can be, Klobuchar said last week. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders confirms that “eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.” Studies suggest that anorexia and another disorder, bulimia, are more common in women.
Westin was in Washington, D.C., when the legislation passed. Her work isn’t done, but she’s celebrating. She ought to know that Minnesota is cheering alongside her. Westin’s journey from grieving mom to fierce political advocate is a study in character and determination. Her dogged good work has made her home state proud.