Lobbying for Eating Disorder and Mental Health Reform
July 11, 2016 by Deana Wilson, Program Director in Advocacy Too often we hear from insurance companies “Residential Eating Disorder Treatment isn’t a covered benefit on this policy.” When faced with the need for life-saving treatment, what is a person or family to do when their insurance will not cover the treatment needed? The Residential Eating Disorder Coalition (REDC) held a Fly-In Lobby Day last month in Washington DC. I had the opportunity to represent Castlewood Treatment Centers and ask Congressmen, Congresswomen and Senators from Missouri and Kansas that exact question. We were there to request support for legislative clarity and enforcement of the Mental Health parity law. In the past, The REDC has been successful in getting clarifying language added to the Mental Health Reform Act and the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, but we need those provisions to remain in the bills as they pass through the House and Senate.
This was my first experience lobbying, and I was excited to have the opportunity to influence change around Mental Health parity. We started the morning with a message training session to review talking points. Again, this was my first time lobbying so I was thankful for the guidance. During the training I learned the Energy and Commerce Committee was voting on the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act that day. This was exciting news! My colleague and I were scheduled to meet with staff from the office of Congressman Mike Pompeo [R-KS-4] who sits on the Committee and would be voting that very day. I couldn’t believe I would have the opportunity to share the importance of the eating disorder provisions and ask for his vote. During our conversation with Congressman Pompeo’s staff, we learned he had a close friend who had struggled with an eating disorder and was in treatment. He was very interested in the information we had to share and understood
why we were asking his boss to vote for the eating disorder provisions that day. As we left the office, the gentlemen at the front desk stood and thanked us for being at the Capitol to lobby for eating disorder legislative reform. He shared that his sister also struggles with an eating disorder.
As the day continued, we heard from numerous individuals sharing how eating disorders had touched their lives through personal experience or through a loved one’s experience. As we waited for our last appointment of the day, we received wonderful news. The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted to pass the Helping Families in Mental Crisis Act, including the Eating Disorder provisions.
Although I do not have confirmation that my meetings influenced the decisions of those Committee members, I know I felt successful in that moment. I also know that spending the day going office to office, raising awareness about eating disorders and the lack of coverage, and ultimately asking our elected officials to support legislation that could improve that coverage was the most important task I had that week.
I returned from the REDC Fly-In Lobby Day energized and ready to share with my colleagues my experience as well as how we are fighting for insurance coverage for our clients at the Federal and State level. I am excited to continue sharing that we are one step closer to obtaining clarification and enforcement around Mental Health parity laws and eating disorder insurance coverage.