Eating Disorders and Individual Disability Insurance

Written by Samantha Bauer RDN, CD, Director of Dietetics and Nutrition at Aloria Health

Recovering from an eating disorder is likely one of the most difficult things that you will do in your lifetime. Throughout recovery, you will have many conversations. You will speak with your family and friends, your care team, and your insurance company. Conversations with your insurance company will be challenging, enlightening, and sometimes just confusing.

It’s been 9 years since I entered treatment for an eating disorder and in that time, I have learned many lessons along the way. Regarding insurance, I have learned that individual long-term disability insurance is hard to come by with an eating disorder on your medical record. Working as an insurance advisor myself and well into my recovery, I didn’t think twice about applying for individual long-term disability insurance. During a discussion with an underwriter, I was informed I was being declined because I was “just too high risk.” The underwriter then asked me, “Well, how do I know that you are recovered?” That simple question caught me off guard; I wasn’t sure how to answer. I then began to look at things from the insurance company’s perspective to better understand. When looking at the numbers, being declined for insurance makes sense. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S., or 4% experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.”

I was declined for both short term and long-term disability insurance that day because of my mental health history. I had zero coverage, and that hit me hard. In conversation with my family, friends, and my care team I was on the way to recovery, but insurance saw things differently. Now, 5 years later, I re-applied for individual long-term disability to see if maybe this time the response from insurance would be different.

This time I have been approved for long-term disability insurance; what relief! I do however have a rider against any benefits to be paid should I need disability insurance due to a mental health condition. A rider is a provision in which the insurance company will exclude a certain medical condition or body part if/when paying a claim. In the eyes of my insurance company, my recovery continues. It will be 3 more years until an underwriter can judge my recovery based only on my medical record to see if I am a high risk for needing to utilize long-term disability benefits due to my eating disorder history.

So, who determines recovery? You, your care team, your family and friends, and your insurance company will all see things differently. Each will have different markers of success and different opinions regarding appropriate timeframes. We do not choose to have an eating disorder, but we do choose recovery, and with recovery comes patience.

Some advice is to seek jobs that provide employer-paid individual disability insurance if possible. Find a trusted insurance advisor that is going to spend time working with you, be your advocate to the underwriting team and explain the insurance application process in a way that you understand. Insurance companies that are willing to have face-to-face conversations with regular follow up will know you personally and are more likely to accurately represent you during the underwriting process.

Insurance is one aspect of the long-term recovery process that will challenge you. Nevertheless, you have resources, you have my story, and you have support. Remember, the hardest and most rewarding thing that you will do is choose to recover from your eating disorder.

Resources:

1. Serious Mental Illness (SMI) Among U.S. Adults. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/serious-mental-illness-smi-among-us- adults.shtml

Samantha Bauer is an experienced registered dietitian that has worked specifically with ED patients for the bulk of her career.  Samantha’s interest in dietetics was sparked on her desire to reinvent the way dietitians are viewed in the community.  She believes on focusing on what a client can eat as opposed to what they can not, meeting clients where they are at and inviting conversation around the challenges of each individual.  

“I love working with clients to achieve their goals and address obstacles holding them back nutritionally while understanding the human component that makes each person different.”  -Samantha Bauer, Nutrition Therapy Director at Aloria Health