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Eating Disorder Treatments To Get Major Medicare Boost

Australians who are struggling with an eating disorder will save thousands in treatment costs from tomorrow thanks to a big boost in what they will be allowed to claim on Medicare.

From Friday, patients with anorexia and other eligible disorders will be able to claim up to 60 treatment sessions in one year, including 40 psychological and 20 dietetic sessions.

This is a big boost in help when compared to current treatment, which covers only 10 rebated therapy sessions and five rebated dietetic sessions, according to clinical psychologist Dr Sarah Maguire.

"The increase in rebated sessions will save patients thousands of dollars and help ease the financial burden on those with eating disorders and their families," she said.

It's the first time specific item numbers have been allocated to eating disorders on the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), and experts have said the change will ease the financial burden for sufferers who are on their path to recovery.

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WARNING: The following story discusses anorexia and mental illness and may be triggering for some individuals.

Approximately one in 20 Australians live with an eating disorder, which includes anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating and other specified eating disorders.

While eating disorders have one of the highest rates of any mental illness, research has found more than 70 percent of patients do not receive treatment.

Sydney woman Ash said she remembers her life being consumed by her eating disorder.

Ash said she lived with an eating disorder for over four years. Now, she's fully recovered. Image: Supplied

Ash said she began showing worrying signs when she was 19, as an "innocent" health kick turned sinister.

"I started developing a much more obsessive relationship with food and the fear started to creep in," she told 10 daily.

 It consumed my life quite quickly.

Ash said she visited a GP who specialised in eating disorders and was soon admitted to an inpatient facility for treatment of anorexia nervosa.

She stayed there for about 13 weeks before relapse saw her twice re-admitted over the course of a year.

"It really overtook every part of my life; I knew nothing except my illness," she said, adding that her work life and relationships with family and friends suffered.

Ash is now 26 and is fully recovered, but it's been a long and difficult journey, that in some ways started when she left hospital.

For about two years, Ash said saw a dietitian every week and a psychiatrist every two weeks, alongside out-patient sessions.

"Recovery can take a long time and attention. While I was mentally able to put in the hard work I needed, I was only as good as the team around me," she said.

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It seems like a lifetime ago when I would walk around, always carrying my small notebook and a pen.

While Ash had private health insurance, she said she knew of others who weren't in the same financial position to access adequate treatment.

"I know friends who had to ration their ten sessions of therapy," she said.

She said the changes are an important step forward for many sufferers.

"Having access to care when you need it, as often as you need it, is so important during that recovery period," she said.

Ash said the MBS changes are an important step forward for other sufferers. Image: Supplied

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the life-saving services are part of the government's commitment to supporting people with eating disorders.

"The government is also investing in research to support prevention and better identification and treatment of eating disorders," he told 10 daily.

Butterfly Foundation chief executive Kevin Barrow said the changes were a much-needed reform for people with serious mental illness.

"We know that, with the right intervention and support, full recovery is possible," Barrow said.

The Australian New Zealand Academy of Eating Disorders (ANZAE) has welcomed the changes but warned patients to seek out clinicians with experience in treating eating disorders.

From November 1 more eating disorder treatments will be covered by Medicare. Image: Getty

"Effective treatment requires well-coordinated teams of skilled mental health, dietetic and medical professionals,” ANZAE President, Dr Kim Hurst said.

Patients would have to be assessed to have an eating disorder by a GP.

The changes will also allow an eligible patient to get a rebate to develop an eating disorder plan, a formal specialist review by a consultant and regular GP reviews of their progress for the treatment plan.

The plan would expire and need to be reviewed at the end of each 12 month period.

To talk to somebody about disordered eating, speak to your local GP, contact one of the specialists listed by the InsideOut Institute, or for confidential support, call the Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 4673.

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au