Daisy field in sunset

Medicare Increases Funding for Eating Disorders: A Personal Reflection

The Prime Minister and Health Minister Hunts’ announcement on Sunday has been monumental in the field of eating disorders. The federal government committed to investing $110 million into research and long term treatment of eating disorders, allowing sufferers access to:

  • 40 Medicare-subsidised psychological sessions per year
  • 20 Medicare-subsidised dietetic sessions per year

These changes, which take effect in November 2019, influence mass-scale change for Australians suffering from an eating disorder and their families.

What Increased Medicare Funding for Eating Disorders Means for Australians

First and foremost, sufferers and their families will be able to access proper treatment: Evidence-based practise shows individuals with Anorexia or an eating disorder with co-existing conditions (including Depression and Anxiety) need a minimum of 50 psychological and 20 dietetic sessions per year. An individual with Bulimia who begins treatment early needs a minimum of 20 psychological and 10 dietetic sessions per year. The governments investment in longer term for eating disorder will:

  • Reduce ED hospitalisations
  • Increase recovery rates. Currently, it’s estimated that 1 million Australians suffer an eating disorder.
  • Decrease financial burden on families. The Medicare subsidies are predicted to save patients and their families up to $90,000 a year.
  • Reduce mortality rates. Anorexia is the deadliest mental health condition in Australia, with suicide the leading cause of death.

What the Changes Mean to Me Personally

For me personally, and my colleagues who work in the field of eating disorders, the changes announced on Sunday bring us tears of joy and relief. Alongside our clients and their families, we have witnessed first hand the struggle that individuals face with the current limit of only 10 psychological and 5 dietetic sessions per year.

I have felt many emotions working in the field of eating disorders. Mostly I am inspired by how hard these individuals fight for recovery, and admire the families who pull together their resources to help their suffering loved one. I have also felt:

  • Disempowered and helpless, knowing that limited time means limited recovery.
  • And, alone. Alone for the sufferers and their families. As previous to these changes, the world was not really “acknowledging” the severity and impact of this condition.

Sunday’s announced change to create a unique Medicare scheme for eating disorders are more significant than just providing ‘increased access to treatment’: The change inspires hope in many Australians, and initiates mass attitude change towards eating disorders.

The change says “eating disorders are real and they’re serious”. No, an eating disorder is not fixed by “just eat[ing] more” or “show[ing] self control”. Eating disorders are devastating illnesses, that impact an individuals ability to work, study and function in relationships. They are the third most common chronic illness in teenagers (Obesity and Asthma running first and second respectively).

The governments recognition of eating disorders reduces stigma. For so long eating disorders have been mostly ignored; and treated as a taboo topic amongst friends and family, or neglected or overlooked in the health profession. Now with these changes we’re all talking… Maybe eating disorders will have their own “R U OK?” Day in the not too distant future.

Taking eating disorders seriously means eventually taking prevention seriously. Clear research shows a connection between initial dieting and eating disorder development. And, quite obviously, there is a connection between the media and dieting culture. In sum, contrary to popular media-driven belief, dieting is unsafe unless it’s prescribed by a health professional. However, there is very little awareness or education around this issue.

As well, the media is mostly unregulated; with no limits on its promotion of ideal beauty. Since no one can obtain this beauty, and I mean NO ONE (the super model, Cindy Crawford, once said “I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford”), we are all left susceptible to feeling inadequate. Consequently, we strive for an ideal beauty. Good news (for the fashion and cosmetic industry) – we spend money! Bad news – we are vulnerable to poor body image and eating disorder development.

I hope that one day advertisements with stick thin “perfect looking” models have disclosure statements: “this model did not eat for a day, hence, her iddy biddy stomach” or “this model was photoshopped, her inner thighs were cut off and her skin received a shower of digital foundation”. Maybe too idealistic you’re thinking? Well… one can hope, but at a minimum hopefully we see more education in schools about how the media changes our attitudes towards our bodies.

So, what now while we wait until November?

We celebrate. The Peaceful Mind Psychology team are going out this week to “cheers” the good news. We are also celebrating with our clients and their families; this week there is a special buzz bouncing off our psychology practice walls.

We sit tight to hear more about the Medicare scheme and how it will work. What criteria does a patient need to qualify? Do practitioners require specific qualifications to use these treatment plans? I hope so.

To be continued I guess, but for now “cheers” to everyone out there who knows the significance of this victory for eating disorders!!