Rates of eating disorders are increasing at a faster rate among those with low socioeconomic status. (reference 1) This fact is troublesome because proper treatment can be very expensive, and thus much more difficult to obtain for these individuals and families. For example, in 2010 the average cost of a month’s stay at a residential eating disorder treatment center was $30,000 (reference 2) and the cost has only increased in the last 11 years.
Though difficult, getting treatment when money is tight is not impossible, but it requires some guidance. That is why we have created this guide to seeking eating disorder treatment on a budget. Below you will find information broken down into three parts: kinds of treatment that may be needed, additional expenses associated with treatment, and how to make treatment more affordable.
What kinds of treatment you may need (in order of least amount of intervention to most intervention):
Nutrition Counseling with a Dietitian
Psychotherapy with a Therapist
Physician appointments for medical evaluations and lab work
Psychiatrist appointments for pharmaceutical therapy if needed
Intensive Outpatient Progam (IOP)
Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)
Residential Treatment (RES)
Expert Medical Hospitalization (Inpatient)
Additional expenses associated with treatment:
Co-paymentss for outpatient appointments
Fees for outpatient providers who do not accept insurance
Purchasing food. This is typically a bigger expense than you might think. For those who struggle with binges, this is an obvious concern. Food purchased just for binges will often set someone back hundreds of dollars every week.
Purchasing clothes. Those with eating disorders often experience weight fluctuations (up and down) that lead them to need clothing in various sizes.
Internet and technology associated costs for telehealth appointments. These costs have become true necessities in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s likely that some providers may continue preferring this mode for appointments even after the pandemic.
Opportunity costs of lost wages due to time away from work for sufferers and/ or their caregivers
How to make treatment more affordable:
Visit our Katy office for “Restored: A Community Clinic for Eating Recovery.” Restored offers individual sessions, meal support, and group sessions with licensed dietitians who are specially trained to treat eating disorders. All services, though not free, are offered for greatly reduced rates to those who present significant financial need. Follow this link to view the Restored web page and to access the financial qualification form.
Utilize any free eating disorder help available:
Download free apps for your mobile device. Here are a couple that we often recommend to clients:
Call the National Eating Disorder Association helpline (800-931-2237) and ask for resources in your area. They can provide information on free or paid services. For those in the Houston area of Texas, we did some of the research for you, and they connected us with the free support groups listed below:
Spring Branch Eating Disorders Anonymous Support Group:
Contact Dawn and Maurie via phone at 720-712-7995 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Groups are currently meeting by phone only on Mondays at 6pm and on Saturdays at 2pm.
Where appropriate, use Family-Based Treatment (FBT) in place of higher levels of care (IOP, PHP, RES). Schedule a free discovery call here with one of our dietitians to discuss if this treatment method might be a good fit for your family.
Apply for scholarships. Follow this link to see a list of organizations that offer scholarships.
Participate in a research study about eating disorders. Studies may either pay individuals generous stipends for participation in surveys, etc. or they may agree to offer free eating disorder treatment through their affiliated hospital in exchange for participation.
Apply for Medicaid if you are eligible. Medicaid is a health insurance program offered at no cost to residents of Texas who are U.S. nationals, permanent residents, legal aliens, or citizens of the United States who are classified as having a low or very low income (follow link for table with qualifying annual incomes) AND are one of the following:
Responsible for a child/ children 18 years or younger
Have a disability, or a family member in the household has a disability
65 years of age or older
Medicaid is sponsored jointly by the state and federal governments, so eligibility criteria may vary from state to state. The information above is specific to Texas.
Purchase a Marketplace insurance plan if possible. If you do not qualify for Medicaid, but you do not have health insurance, search the government-maintained health insurance marketplace for a plan. The plans available on this site may be more affordable than you expect.
Ask for non-insurance paneled providers for a “sliding scale” rate. This is an especially helpful tactic when working with outpatient providers. Therapists, for example, may charge very high hourly rates, but they reserve a few hours each month for clients with which they negotiate a rate that is affordable based on the clients’ financial situation.
Save money that you would normally spend on other things:
Apply for SNAP (& WIC for pregnant women and women with children 5 years and younger) and save money on groceries. If you are a Texas resident, follow this link to find out if you have a qualifying income or to apply for benefits.
Purchase clothes from discount and secondhand stores if possible.
Food, housing, mental health counseling, and other resources are provided by many local charities, though eligibility criteria varies. A list of several charities in the Houston and Katy areas is available at the end of this guide.
Use the Metro system for transportation if possible. The Metro provides 50% off passes to students, disabled persons, and seniors. Find out how to apply here.
Call lenders, collection agencies, and other service providers for debt/ bills to inquire about lowering payments or deferring payments until you are in a better position to pay.
To find a list of local charities click the PDF below.
Reference 1: Mitchison, D., Hay, P., Slewa-Younan, S., & Mond, J. (2014). The changing demographic profile of eating disorder behaviors in the community. BMC Public Health, 14(1). doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-943
Reference 2: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-much-will-treatment-for-my-eating-disorder-cost-4707742