Medicare to cover treatment for severe eating disorders for the first time

Government announces $110.7m in funding to provide treatment packages for up to 30,000 patients a year

Tens of thousands of Australians with severe eating disorders will soon be able to access treatment under Medicare for the first time.

The government says that from 1 November next year, patients will be able to access a Medicare subsidy to receive up to 40 psychological services and 20 with a dietician each year.

It will be the first time a set of treatment services for eating disorders will be available under Australia’s Medicare system. It will cost $110.7m over four years, and the government expects up to 30,000 patients will access the services annually.

“It’s budgeted, it’s funded, it’s committed and it will be in place no matter who’s in government,” the health minister, Greg Hunt, said on Sunday.

Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of any psychiatric illness, with anorexia by far the deadliest mental health condition in Australia. There are around 1 million Australians living with an eating disorder.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, issued a join statement with Hunt on Sunday.

“Eating disorders can be debilitating for both men and women of any age and this illness is one of the many nightmares parents have for their children,” they said.

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

“We have worked closely with medical experts and key stakeholder for many months to achieve this outcome and we thank the independent Medicare Benefits Schedule Review Taskforce for their work, following our request for a review last year.”

The government will also provide $4m over four years to the InsideOut Institute for Eating Disorders to support new research into better treatment and care for people living with an eating disorder condition.

The government has also appointed Christine Morgan as chief executive officer of the National Mental Health Commission.

Morgan has been CEO of the Butterfly Foundation since 2009. The foundation is a national organisation for people with eating disorders and their carers.

News of the government’s Medicare plan was welcomed by families who have struggled with the horrors of eating disorders.

Fiona Ryan spent five long years trying to save her daughter’s life – without much help from the healthcare system.

She and her husband would sit with their daughter Tessa every day, coaxing her to eat, checking her pockets and sleeves for hidden food, looking under her tongue for that last hidden piece of toast.

Fiona slept in the bed next to Tessa to make sure she wasn’t waking up to exercise, took long amounts of leave without pay and watched her family go into debt as they battled to keep Tessa alive.

On one desperate day Fiona stood crying in an emergency room for five hours, until someone responded to her pleas for help. But it was too late for Tessa, who at the age of 17 took her own life, after battling an eating disorder for five years.

“Our family felt like we fought on two fronts, we fought an eating disorder and we felt we fought the system in order to get recognition, support and the treatment that Tess needed,” Fiona said on Sunday.

Contributor

Gareth Hutchens and Australian Associated Press

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