DENVER, Colo. (KRDO) – Two bills aiming to improve eating disorder care and prevention have been signed into law by Lieutenant Governor Dianne Primavera.
The goal of the bills is to remove barriers that some people with eating disorders experience when trying to seek care. The largest of which is people being denied care due to their body mass index.
According to Mental Health Colorado, 1 in 10 Coloradans live with an eating disorder, and eating disorders are one of the deadliest mental health conditions. Officials say the rate of people seeking treatment or being diagnosed has gone up since the start of the pandemic.
"Eating disorders thrive in secrecy, isolation, and removing people from their community and in-person events," Eating Disorder Foundation Program Coordinator Claire Engels said. "With everything that happened since 2020, we saw a 1000% increase in our support group attendance since the start of covid."
Senate Bill 23-176 removes BMI or any other weight standard as a factor that insurance carriers and Medicaid can use to determine the level of care of a patient.
"The biggest thing with removing BMI as a barrier is not only will it allow folks to have better access to treatment and more likely to get into treatment," Engels said. "But also stay in treatment longer and for as long as they need. We hear from a lot of folks that they get into treatment and then insurance cuts out because their BMI isn't at the range that insurance deems as thick."
This can lead someone to have to reapply and not re-qualify, or even relapse.
While a low BMI can be an indicator of some eating disorders, less than 6% of people with eating disorders are considered medically underweight. Officials said people with higher BMIs are often denied care based on the standard.
"It pulls it back to, eating disorders are not just about the way a body looks, a weight, and how much or little people eat," Eating Disorder Foundation Program Director Lydia Rhino said. "It's very much about the internal workings of each individual. If a lot of other things in our world are really chaotic, seem unsafe, or striving for perfection can lead to people feeling like they need to have control over one area of their life and what can that be."
Officials said eating disorders can be referred to as a coping mechanism. That means treatment and recovery look very different from person to person, but it starts with finding the reasoning or causes behind the initial onset.
"It allows us to have an emphasis on the mental health components which are primarily what eating disorders are about," Engels said. "It's rarely about the food. It's about what's happening in your mind and control. There are a lot of co-appearing diagnoses like trauma, substance use, depression, anxiety, isolation, all of that."
According to health officials, more than 30 million Americans will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime. Without treatment, 1 in 5 people with eating disorders will die.
Health officials said eating disorders can affect people of all ages, and binge eating is a more common disorder than anorexia or bulimia. The goal behind the bill is to allow anyone to seek treatment or support who wants it.
The bill also requires the Behavioral Health Administration to place rules around forced feeding tubes and limits the sale of certain diet pills to minors.
The other bill, SB23-014, creates a resource bank for research, treatments, and resources regarding prevention.