By Mary Jo Wiegratz, Manager of National Outreach
This year the annual National Eating Disorders Conference was held in Washington, D.C., so members could participate in a Federal Lobby Day, which focused on bringing awareness and support for eating disorders. Rogers’ Medical Director of Eating Disorders Services, Theodore Weltzin, MD, FAED, FAPA, national outreach representative Jean Corrao and I took advantage of that opportunity.
This year’s focus was on increasing access to mental health treatment and strengthening research funding. A recent poll showed cost of care and insurance coverage are top factors impeding successful recovery. And research funding for eating disorders lags other conditions. In 2011, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided funding research for Alzheimer’s of which88 dollars was spent per affected individual; for schizophrenia, 81 dollars, and for autism, 44 dollars. However, for eating disorders it was only 93 cents per affected individual.
Working with NEDA, we were able to meet with aides of Wisconsin’s Congressional representatives or aides from Jim Sensenbrenner, Gwen Moor and Mark Pocan and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s offices. We encouraged their support of the Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act of 2013, which addresses additional research, improved training for health and school professionals and improved insurance reimbursement for eating disorders. And, we invited them to join and support the National Eating Disorders Awareness Caucus and support a key initiative seeking further federal research.
We also sought their support or sponsorship of the House and Senate versions of the Mental Health Improvement Act, which can help with access and coverage. Part of this bill would allow for Medicare coverage of treatment provided by marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and mental health counselors (MHCs) n addition to the licensed certified social workers (LCSWs) currently covered. Training is comparable for these professionals, but MFTs and MHCs – often the only resource in rural communities – are not recognized as providers by Medicare.
We had a good response from everyone we met. Sen.Baldwin previously played an important role in supporting the FREED Act.
It was certainly an interesting time to be on Capitol Hill, given the government shutdown. It was pretty quiet. But it did give us a sense of being at the center of the government and doing our small part to encourage these initiatives.