NEW YORK - Anna Westin was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa when she was 16. After fighting her insurance company for years to get them to pay for the amount of treatment she required, she committed suicide, feeling like her family would be better off without her as a "burden."
In December, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes the Anna Westin Act. The bill will use existing funds to create grant programs to train school personnel, primary care physicians, and mental health and public health professionals on how to identify and prevent eating disorders, as well as how to intervene when behaviors associated with eating disorders are identified. The bill also clarifies that the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires health insurance companies to cover residential treatment for eating disorders.
West Virginia currently has no residential treatment facilities for eating disorders, the deadliest mental illness, and specialists are scarce.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., a co-sponsor of the Anna Westin Act, said she hopes more resources come to the state, but at least she wants the bill to make sure insurance covers residential treatment for West Virginians who have to leave to get it.
A New York-based nonprofit is also hoping to help get more resources to the state.
Project HEAL was started in 2008 by two friends who met while in treatment for their eating disorders. The two recognized there was a gap in treatment services and funding for treatment. Project HEAL awards grants to those who need help funding their treatment, while also educating and raising awareness.
"Treatment could cost $30,000 a month," said Ali Hougnou, director of volunteer services for Project HEAL. "For my last treatment, I stayed for a year and a half. Thankfully, I had insurance coverage."
Project HEAL has 40 chapters across the United States and in Canada and Australia, but none in West Virginia. All it would take it one person stepping up to take on a chapter.
"We would love to have a chapter in each state," Hougnou said.
After applying online, if the chapter is approved, the first step is to raise $500 for a grant. Hougnou said this really helps focus the chapter and get the community involved.
Capito said she also hopes to bring victims of eating disorders and their families together with medical professionals to continue the dialogue about eating disorders in West Virginia sometime this summer.
"It's amazing when you get into this and talk to individuals who share their stories," Capito said. "It's tough. It's a lifelong battle."
Anna Westin's mother, Kitty, is also continuing her nationwide crusade, working with the Eating Disorders Coalition to ensure the language in the bill is implemented correctly. They also want to expand treatment services offered through Medicare and Medicaid.
"People recover from eating disorders," Westin said. "Our daughter's story is tragic, and it doesn't need to be that way. People fully recover and live happy, full rich lives."
Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter @TaylorStuckHD.