The all too sad truth is that every hour someone dies as a result of an eating disorder in the U.S. Eating disorders are more common in our country than breast cancer or Alzheimer’s. In fact, despite the importance of early recognition and intervention, only one in 10 people with an eating disorder ever actually gets treatment.
To help the millions of people suffering from eating disorders get the treatment they need, we’ve led the effort to bring together a bipartisan group of women U.S. senators this summer to introduce the Anna Westin Act.
This bill is named in honor of Anna Westin of Chaska, Minn., who was diagnosed with anorexia when she was just 16 years old. Anna’s health started deteriorating quickly after she completed her sophomore year at the University of Oregon. She began suffering from liver malfunction, along with dangerously low body temperatures and blood pressure. Even though her condition was urgent, Anna was told she had to wait until the insurance company “certified” her treatment. This ultimately delayed and limited the treatment she received. After struggling with the disease for five years, Anna committed suicide at the age of 21.
We will never forget Anna. Her premature death must serve as a wakeup call for treating eating disorders as the serious diseases they are. Because these diseases all too often go unnoticed and untreated, the Anna Westin Act creates grant programs to train educators, doctors and mental health workers on how to identify and prevent eating disorders, as well as how to intervene when an eating disorder has been identified.
Despite laws saying that insurance coverage for mental health care must be equal with coverage for other health care needs, eating disorders and other mental illnesses often go undiagnosed and untreated for far too long. In the worst cases, these delays can also lead to the avoidable death of those waiting for treatment — exactly what happened to Anna. To help prevent more tragic deaths like hers, our bill builds on the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act by requiring that group insurance plans cover residential treatment for mental health and addiction.
These common-sense and long-overdue steps will help give those suffering from eating disorders the tools they need to overcome these diseases and prevent more tragedies like Anna’s. This bill has strong bipartisan support, and with affected families in every corner of our country, it’s time for the U.S. Senate to pass this bill.
We wish that Anna were still with us. We wish that she could have attended her sister’s wedding last December, graduated from college, started a career and had children of her own. While it may be too late for Anna, we know she would want us to do everything we can to create a world where eating disorders are better recognized, treated and prevented. Let’s act now and help end such unnecessary loss for more families.
Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. Kitty Westin is the founder and former president of the Anna Westin Foundation, now the Emily Program Foundation, which is dedicated to eliminating eating disorders through advocacy and education.