7 On Your Side: Reform bill passed to help people with eating disorders

Anna Selina Westin (Photo courtesy of Westin family)

For the first time in American history, Congress passed a bill supporting patients who suffer from eating disorders, as many as 30 million -- mostly young -- people.

“I am relieved,” Kitty Westin told 7 On Your Side. “It’s a burden I’ve carried for 16 years.”

When President Obama signs the 21st Century Cures and Mental Health Reform Act of 2016 next week, a small but significant part of the bill is the Anna Westin Act. Kitty Westin lost her daughter to anorexia when she was 21 years old, and to bear that unbearable loss, Westin said she had to try to share Anna’s story with the world.

“Had I known when my daughter came to me at age 14 and said she wanted to go on a diet that would be a fatal decision, I would’ve done things differently,” said Westin.

The Westins struggled in many ways that the new law will alleviate. They, doctors, and nurses, missed the early signs of illness. The new law provides funding for training and awareness for medical professionals.

Their insurance company refused to cover the expensive, in-patient care that can cure the disorder. The new law ensures mental health parity, where insurance companies will have to view treatment for a mental health disorder much like they would treatment for cancer.

In February of 2016, 7 On Your Side filed a special report about an Alexandria family whose 19-year old daughter died of anorexia and bulimia, and the movement to shed light on an illness in the shadows.

“Sixteen years of hard work done by the Eating Disorders Coalition and Kitty Westin has paid off,” Sally George told 7 On Your Side. “We are elated.”

When their daughter Leslie was a teenager, the George family found that doctors and insurers saw Leslie’s condition as a choice rather than the deadliest of all mental health disorders, with a 20-percent mortality rate. Deadly, yet entirely curable with the right care.

Tonight, 7 On Your Side Consumer Investigator Kimberly Suiters reports on the history-making law, and ABC7 sports reporter Scott Abraham profiles a courageous athlete who survived her eating disorder thanks to intensive, months-long, and life-saving residential treatment.

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