Bulimia Treatment Centers: Costs & Insurance Coverage

All across the United States, bulimia treatment centers help people overcome damaging impulses, habits, and behaviors. Each one is slightly different, but all share some core attributes.

woman in nature

All across the United States, bulimia treatment centers help people overcome damaging impulses, habits, and behaviors. Each one is slightly different, but all share some core attributes.

Experts say all bulimia treatment should come from a qualified team that provides the following: [1]

  • Psychotherapy
  • Nutritional education and support
  • Medical care
  • Psychiatry 

But how that care is delivered, how much it costs, and how long the program lasts can vary widely.

In general, people who invest in bulimia treatment emerge with their health. But patients should understand that the best bulimia treatment centers offer personalized care. So your program may be very different from someone else’s—and that’s a good thing.

As a result, it’s challenging to make straightforward statements about how much programs cost, how long they last, and what they do. Your experience will vary. But this information can help you get started.

Woman visiting doctor's office

What to Look for in a Bulimia Treatment Center

While experts agree on what treatment centers should do, they sometimes have differing views on how they should be structured or staffed. 

In 2016, the Joint Commission offered guidance on what eating disorder programs should consist of. Facilities following these rules would provide the following:[2]

  • Personalized care: Bulimia isn’t a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. Administrators should treat their patients like individuals and tailor treatment accordingly. Each plan should be different. 
  • Evidence-based therapy: Patients should get solutions that have been proven effective through research and published studies. Facilities can supplement with activities they deem helpful, but most of a patient’s time is spent working through proven techniques. 
  • Dietitian access: Registered dietitians should design, implement, and manage programs for people with eating disorders. 
  • Talented clinical staff: A licensed doctor should be available to work with patients. Therapists may provide counseling sessions, but a medical doctor is required since eating disorders do so much physical damage. 
  • Monitoring: People entering bulimia treatment centers can’t resist the urge to binge and purge. The facility should have trained staff available to reduce opportunities to slip and return to disordered eating. 

These rules are extensive, but some thought they needed to go further. 

In 2021, the Residential Eating Disorders Consortium (REDC) offered more guidance on what an Eating Disorder Center of Excellence should include. Many rules are similar to those released by the Joint Commission, but a few exceptions exist.

The REDC calls for the following: [3]

  • Tracking: Intake tests help teams understand how the person feels and behaves. Repeated assessments offer the opportunity to see progress. All patients should have these tests and see the results. 
  • Complete care: Many people with bulimia move through symptom severity stages. They may need intensive inpatient care at the beginning of their journey, but they may require less supervision as they heal. Facilities should provide a full continuum of care to support these changing needs. 
  • Treatment for co-occurring conditions: Depression, substance abuse, and anxiety often appear alongside bulimia. Facilities should treat these issues, too, so people have a complete chance of getting better and changing their behavior. 
  • Collaboration with families: Caring parents, siblings, and partners can offer continued support when treatment ends. They may also have insights into the eating disorder’s beginning. A qualified treatment center will include these people in the program. 

Typical Bulimia Treatment Timeline

Every person who enters a bulimia treatment center wants to know when they can leave again. The answer varies. 

Since bulimia treatment programs are individualized, it’s impossible to know how long healing will take. Some people stay in programs for eight weeks. Others remain in their programs for just four weeks.

When intensive care ends, people must continue to reduce triggers and relapse risks. Counseling sessions are crucial here; some people meet with their counselors for months or even years. 

There is no typical bulimia treatment timeline. Each person’s path is different. Variability is a sign of quality care.

How Much Does Bulimia Treatment Cost? 

Therapy expenses vary by treatment level. The more supervision and expertise a person requires, the larger the fee. 

A two-week stay in a facility like this can cost up to $20,000. [4]

Some people with bulimia need to stay in a hospital to start the healing process. They get treatment for underlying issues like heart disease and can gain or lose weight as is necessary to feel better.

Some people don’t need hospitalization for bulimia but need residential care. They need a team to help them reduce their binge/purge cycles and regular counseling to help them change their habits. A residential center like this can cost about $1,200 per day. [4]

Outpatient facilities offer appointment-based treatment for bulimia, which tend to be much less expensive than inpatient programs. The cost can vary widely; in some systems, this outpatient care is included with the cost of inpatient treatment. 

Do Insurance Programs Cover Bulimia Costs?

Years ago, health insurance companies covered treatment on two tiers. Health issues got full coverage, and mental health got less. A lot has changed since then. 

Insurance companies are bound by parity laws, meaning they must cover mental health issues at the same rate as they cover medical concerns. Due to these laws, insurance companies must cover bulimia treatment. 

But there are catches. Some insurance companies set arbitrary rules about when treatment should begin and end. For example, if you hit the proper weight, the team might say you’re healed. But you may need years of treatment to truly get better. 

Insurance companies may also require copayments, and those can add up. Some families drop out of care early because of their limitations. [6]

One family paid nearly $40,000 in out-of-pocket care for a loved one’s eating disorder. [5]

To get the most out of insurance programs, families can do the following:

  • Get a diagnosis. Insurance companies need paperwork to prove that someone has a condition that needs to be treated. 
  • Work within the network. Many insurance companies create partnerships with facilities to keep costs down. Stepping outside of those agreements can mean spending more money. 
  • Ask the facility to help. Some organizations have staff that can assist families in dealing with insurance paperwork. 

Costs should not be an impediment to getting quality, proven care. 

Do You Need an Inpatient or Outpatient Bulimia Treatment Solution?

Life with an eating disorder isn’t easy, and thinking about treatment can be overwhelming. But you don’t have to do this alone. 

If you think you need a bulimia treatment center, talk to these people:

  • Your doctor: Get a formal diagnosis, and learn more about what your doctor thinks is suitable for you and your health. Ask your doctor to help you find a center you trust.
  • Your dentist: Bulimia can cause severe oral health issues, and sometimes, your dental health professional is the first to notice the symptoms. If you trust your dentist, ask what should happen next.
  • Your insurance company: With your diagnosis in place, contact the insurance company and ask about your benefits. Find out which facilities are part of your network.

You may determine that you need an inpatient bulimia solution where you’re getting care around the clock. Or, you may discover that you’re qualified to get better in an outpatient facility while you live at home. Your treatment team can help you make this critical decision. 

Don’t let the paperwork and hoops stop you from getting help. If you’re overwhelmed, let people help you. You’re surrounded by people who care about you. Together, you can get the help you need.

Resources


  1. Types of Eating Disorders Care. (n.d.). Residential Eating Disorders Consortium. Retrieved August 14, 2022.
  2. Approved: New Requirements for Residential and Outpatient Eating Disorders Programs. (2016, January). The Joint Commission. Retrieved August 14, 2022.
  3. Defining an Eating Disorders Center of Excellence. (2021, June). Residential Eating Disorders Consortium. Retrieved August 14, 2022. 
  4. Social and Economic Cost of Eating Disorders in the United States of America. (2020, June). Deloitte. 
  5. Gordon D. (2021, February 26). Despite Progress, Patients Still Struggle with Insurance Coverage for Eating Disorder Treatment. Forbes. Retrieved August 14, 2022.
  6. Kaye WH, Baker Enright A, Lesser S. (1988, July). Characteristics of Eating Disorders Programs and Common Problems with Third-Party Providers. International Journal of Eating Disorders; 7(4):573-579.

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