November 21, 2019

Senators Hassan, Murkowski Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Support Seniors and People with Disabilities Struggling with Eating Disorders

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced bipartisan legislation to improve access to care for seniors and people living with disabilities who struggle with eating disorders.

While often not discussed, eating disorders affect 3-4 percent of the senior population. Eating disorders also affect 6 percent of females and 3 percent of males who experience disabilities. The bipartisan Nutrition CARE Act would expand access to medical care for Medicare beneficiaries with eating disorders by including coverage of outpatient medical nutrition therapy through Medicare Part B, which will provide patients with a more comprehensive, specialized approach to combating eating disorders than what is currently offered under Medicare.

“Eating disorders tend to be discussed in the context of young people, but that misses the full extent of the problem,” Senator Hassan said. “My bipartisan bill with Senator Murkowksi would help ensure that seniors and people living with disabilities – both populations who often face other health challenges in addition to eating disorders – receive the comprehensive care that they need.”

“Although eating disorders are often perceived as solely impacting teens and young adults, they also impact aging Americans, which can further complicate existing chronic disorders or diseases. These issues are psychologically rooted, but they can take a serious long-term toll on the body. The Alaska Psychological Association acknowledges that this is among one of Alaska’s most pressing mental illness issues, but our state is unfortunately lacking the resources needed for treatment,” said Senator Murkowski. “Addressing these complex illnesses cannot be ‘one-size-fits-all.’ Effective treatment requires a comprehensive approach, tailored to fit each unique case that is encountered. For Alaskans that rely on Medicare that are struggling with an eating disorder, this legislation will expand access to medical nutrition therapy, a key component of outpatient treatment which prioritizes customized diets and meal plans based on each patient’s physical, dietary, and psychosocial history.”

“The Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action applauds the leadership of Senators Murkowski and Hassan in leading the Nutrition CARE Act,” said Chase Bannister, MDIV, MSW, LCSW, CEDS, Board President of the Eating Disorders Coalition. “The formal Senate introduction of this critical piece of legislation moves our community one step closer toward making comprehensive coverage for eating disorders treatment a reality for the millions of Americans affected by this illness.” 

“I welcome the introduction of the Nutrition Care Act by Senator Hassan because it expands access to medical nutrition therapy for Medicare beneficiaries suffering from eating disorders,” said Seda Ebrahimi, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the Cambridge Eating Disorder Center, which operates centers in Cambridge, MA and Concord, NH. “It provides a much-needed component toward the effective treatment of eating disorders in the elderly.”

This bipartisan Nutrition CARE Act would allow registered physicians, dieticians, nutrition specialists, and mental health professionals to provide medical nutrition therapy services to Medicare beneficiaries. Currently, Medicare beneficiaries struggling with an eating disorder can only access psychiatric, therapy, and medical services. The expanded services would include at least 13 hours of medical nutrition therapy—including a one hour initial assessment and 12 hours of reassessment and intervention—during the first year that the beneficiary begins receiving services. The beneficiary would then be able to access four hours of medical nutrition therapy services during each subsequent year.

Read the text of the legislation introduced here.

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