$110m anorexia life­line

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - MI­RANDA WOOD

PA­TIENTS with crip­pling eat­ing dis­or­ders such as anorexia ner­vosa, bu­limia and bing­ing will be el­i­gi­ble for a land­mark Medi­care sub­sidy to help fight the deadly men­tal ill­ness.

With a mil­lion suf­fer­ers na­tion­wide — some as young as seven — the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will give chronic pa­tients ac­cess to 60 tax­payer-funded med­i­cal ap­point­ments from Novem­ber next year.

The ded­i­cated Medi­care item, to be listed as “eat­ing dis­or­ders”, will cost $110.7 mil­lion over four years and in­clude 40 psy­cho­log­i­cal and 20 di­etetic ser­vices an­nu­ally. The changes, rec­om­mended by the Eat­ing Disor- ders Work­ing Group of the Medi­care Ben­e­fits Sched­ule Re­view Task­force, are ex­pected to ben­e­fit about 30,000 peo­ple a year.

With anorexia the dead­li­est men­tal health con­di­tion in Aus­tralia, pri­vate treat­ment can cost pa­tients up to $90,000 a year.

For pa­tients to be el­i­gi­ble for the new sub­sidy, their GP and men­tal health prac­ti­tioner need to agree they have a se­vere eat­ing dis­or­der. A treat­ment plan will then be drawn up and re­viewed half­way through.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son said dev­as­tat­ing eat­ing dis­or­ders were “one of many night­mares par­ents have for their chil­dren”.

“It can strike and tear apart any home as it tries to rob the life and spirit of those dear ones af­flicted,” Mr Mor­ri­son said. “It is only right that we recog­nise these de­bil­i­tat­ing con­di­tions within our Medi­care sys­tem.”

Fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Greg Hunt said the new Medi­care item would help pa­tients tackle the prob­lem be­fore they needed hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion.

“By the time some­body is ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal that means they have be­come ex­tremely se­vere, both phys­i­cally and men­tally,” he said. “This is a con­di­tion, even more so than many of the other men­tal health con­di­tions, that re­quires on­go­ing and con­tin­u­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port un­til such time as the per­son is able to make progress.

“In many cases it can go on for years and so if there is ear­lier stronger sup­port there is a much bet­ter chance of con­tain­ing it to the mild level.”

Un­der cur­rent Medi­care ar­range­ments, eat­ing dis­or­ders are cov­ered by gen­eral men­tal health items, with pa­tients el­i­gi­ble for only 10 psy­cho­log­i­cal and five di­etetic ser­vices.

Chris­tine Mor­gan, chief ex­ec­u­tive of lead­ing eat­ing dis­or­der sup­port group the But­ter­fly Foun­da­tion, said the new Medi­care sub­sidy would be a “seis­mic shift ... I re­ally do see this as an his­tor­i­cal event,” she said. “I know that sounds quite dra­matic but for those that have been, for so many years, fight­ing to get these ill­nesses recog­nised, it’s re­ally sig­nif­i­cant.

“We still have too many peo­ple who think that eat­ing dis­or­ders are just a life­style choice.”

In the past 10 years, Syd­ney writer Fiona Wright has spent $75,000 treat­ing her eat­ing dis­or­der.

“I would like to see it go even fur­ther, but it’s thrilling to hear things are chang­ing,” Ms Wright, 35, said. “That sort of ac­cess to treat­ment would have made my life a lot eas­ier.”

She said the fi­nan­cial stress had forced many peo­ple with eat­ing dis­or­ders to bor­row money for med­i­cal help. “I’m very for­tu­nate I was able to work. Many more peo­ple have no op­tion but to step away from treat­ment.”


Fiona Wright.

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