Eating disorders now a top priority with Australian Government

According to a new announcement from the Morrison government on Sunday (9th of December 2018), patients who are suffering from severe forms of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia would soon have access to up to 60 appointments with psychologists and dieticians as part of their Medicare plan.

At Butterfly house Prime Minister Scott Morrison & Greg Hunt announced an investment into changing the public health system and significant funding for eating disorders.
At Butterfly house Prime Minister Scott Morrison & Greg Hunt announced an investment into changing the public health system and significant funding for eating disorders.

Of these there would be up to 40 subsidised psychological services and 20 dietetic services per year starting from November 2019.

At the announcement was Health Minister Greg Hunt along with Olympian Jana Pittman. Pittman spoke of her own demons of eating disorders at the announcement and how she struggled to battle them. She is an ambassador for InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders and spoke of the attack of anxiety and “self loathing” that she faced the day before she won her gold medal at the 2007 400m World Championships. She said that oftentimes people see only the gold and the success and do not realize the struggles of anxiety behind it all. She added, “This can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter how successful or how great you are.”

Health Minister Hunt said in an announcement that the $110 million investment over the last four years has been one of the most positive steps taken to help people with eating disorders. He said, “It is the first time there has ever been a dedicated eating disorders item or set of treatment services available under Medicare.”

At present people with eating disorders can get only 10 subsidized psychologist appointments per year under the purview of the Mental Health Treatment Plan. They can get a further 5 sessions with a dietician under the purview of the Chronic Disease Management Plan. According to best practice recommendations, people with eating disorders need at least 50 psychological and 20 sessions with a dietician per year. Those with early forms of bulimia need at least 20 psychological and 10 sessions with a dietician per year, say recommendations. The new announcement allows 40 and 20 of each respectively and this brings the allowance closer to recommendations, say experts.

The charity Butterfly Foundation, earlier this year had conducted a survey on eating disorders in around 700 patients and noted that a quarter of Australians who are living with eating disorders do not get basic health care provisions. One third of these patients have had to go into debts to pay for their treatments what had led to discontinuation of treatment or their jobs in around 55 percent patients. Around 78 percent carers had had to give up their education or jobs to look after their loved ones with the eating disorders. Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan in a statement said, “We know from personal stories shared with Butterfly that thousands of Australians suffer serious financial and complex social stresses due to the prohibitive cost of treatment. Today’s long-awaited announcement makes history for those battling eating disorders.”

According to statistics, eating disorders have the highest risk of death among all the psychiatric disorders. Suicide is also a major cause of death among people with eating disorders. Reports suggest that there are over a million Australians who are living with an eating disorder and anorexia is found to be one of the “deadliest mental health condition” in whole of Australia. According to the announcement, this investment of $110.7 million in Medicare would help at least 30,000 people each year and help prevent hospitalizations and deaths among them. Families and patients would save up to $90,000 annually on healthcare costs.

Labor shadow minister for Mental Health Julie Collins and shadow minister for Health Deborah O'Neill have both lauded the efforts but said that there was a long way to go yet. Collins and O'Neill said in a statement, “With body image constantly cited as one of the top three worries of young Australians, the absence of a national strategy to tackle this issue in a coordinated way is concerning. We need to do better not only at treating eating disorders – but at preventing them and understanding them, with body image a central component of this.”

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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