JEFFERSON CITY - A former Miss America came to Missouri's Capitol on Thursday and talked about her battle with anorexia to support a Senate bill that would require Missouri's health care insurance companies to cover treatment for eating disorders.
Thursday was the fifth annual Missouri Eating Disorders Advocacy Day and Miss America 2008 Kirsten Haglund rallied at the Capitol to tell Missouri legislators her personal story about how an eating disorder affected her family.
The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would require the Joint Committee on Legislative Research to investigate how a mandate to treat eating disorders will impact the costs of health insurers and customers. That bill now goes to the Missouri House.
Another Senate bill would require Missouri health insurance companies to provide coverage for eating disorders. The Senate Small Business, Insurance, and Industry Committee heard testimony on the bill last month but it hasn't taken a vote on it.
Bill sponsor Sen. David Pearce said sometimes it takes years for legislation to pass but that this current bill would still be a success because it started a conversation about eating disorders.
We're raising the awareness," Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said. "It just shows that it's something that we can talk about."
Haglund said she recovered from anorexia but said the process was a long one that led to her parents being in debt because their insurance didn't cover all the care she needed to fully recover.
"They did not cover my therapist and they did not cover my nutritionist," Haglund said. "That was all my parents." She said she wanted people to know "that there is hope and that treatment works."
Annie Seal of the Missouri Eating Disorders Association said Missouri insurance companies provide little treatment for eating disorders and that this coverage is not enough for people to get well.
"People are constantly being shorted the amount of treatment they really need," Seal said.
Brent Butler, the lobbyist for the Missouri Insurance Coalition, said he thinks it's a good idea to find how much a eating disorder treatment mandate would cost companies. He said the coalition doesn't approve any health care insurance mandates because he said health care costs are going up and mandate only add to those costs.
"But to make every company say that's the way it's going to be, we're against that kind of a mandate," Butler said. He also said such a mandate can cost the state money if it's not included in the state's essential benefits package next year.
Haglund said there needs to be a change in society as well as the health care system to help treat eating disorders.
"It cannot be underestimated the power that [fashion] images have on young women in shaping their body image," Haglund said. She said there needs to be a conversation on what true health and wellness is.
Seal said when left untreated, eating disorders can lead to more expensive health problems such as heart failure and brain damage.
"Eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses," Seal said.