In Australia, people experiencing eating disorders may be eligible for support through Medicare.
A person who meets the criteria for an Eating Disorder Treatment Plan may be eligible to access up to 40 sessions of evidence-based psychological treatment from a mental health professional and up to 20 sessions of dietetic services from an accredited practicing dietitian per calendar year. This plan is for people with anorexia nervosa, or with severe presentations of bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, or other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED). You will need to see a psychiatrist or paediatrician after your 20th psychological session so that you can access further sessions if needed.
To access these supports through Medicare, you will need to see your GP and ask for an Eating Disorder Treatment Plan. Some GPs may bulk bill for this, and some may charge a gap. You should book a longer session with your GP to enable time for them to prepare the Plan. If you have a psychiatrist, or your child is seeing a paediatrician, these medical professionals may also prepare the Plan.
A person who does not meet the criteria for an Eating Disorder Treatment Plan may be eligible to receive up to 20 sessions of psychological services from a mental health professional under a Mental Health Treatment Plan and up to 5 sessions of dietetic services from a dietitian per year under a Chronic Disease Management Plan.
Carers may also be eligible to receive up to 20 sessions of psychological services from a mental health professional per year to help them maintain their own mental health while providing care.
You can find credentialed mental health professionals and dietitians who provide eating disorder treatment with Medicare rebates by using the search function on this site.
While some clinicians may bulk bill in certain circumstances (e.g. for Health Care Card holders), many mental health professionals and dietitians who provide services under Medicare also charge a gap fee. It is important to ask your provider what gap fees they charge before starting treatment.
You should also ask your provider what their full fees are in case you want to access further sessions after your Medicare rebated sessions have run out.
While you are seeing your mental health professional or dietitian, you should also continue seeing your GP for regular monitoring and reviews. Your GP will work with you and the rest of your providers to determine how often they need to see you. Some GPs may bulk bill for these sessions, and others may charge a gap fee.
You may feel worried about costs involved in treatment. Please talk to your GP about the Medicare Safety Net as this can reduce the overall costs related to different aspects of your treatment.
While you are receiving treatment, your GP, psychiatrist, physician, or paediatrician may sometimes refer you for tests to check your physical health. Sometimes your dietitian may ask your doctor to arrange tests on their behalf.
Most commonly these tests include blood tests to check levels of electrolytes, glucose, blood cells and other important markers. These tests can generally be bulk billed.
You may also be asked to complete a DEXA scan, which measures bone density. A DEXA scan costs around $125 and may need to be repeated every 1-2 years.
Eating disorders are often associated with other health issues such as diabetes, sleep apnoea and more. If your doctor suspects you may also be experiencing one or more of these issues, you may be sent for further tests to find out more and determine a treatment plan that addresses both your eating disorder and your other health concerns. These tests vary, and you should ask your doctor about any associated costs.
There are a range of services and programs available for those who need more intensive treatment. These include intensive outpatient programs, day programs and residential programs. More information about each of these can be found here.
Most intensive services are operated by Non-Government Organisations or Private Providers. They are still required to meet safe healthcare standards as set by the Government.
Fee structures vary, with some services charging a weekly amount and some charging for a course of treatment. Ask your provider how their fees work, when you will be expected to pay, and whether any part of their service is covered by Medicare, private health insurance or other funding.
If you are in financial hardship, you can also ask your provider whether they have any special arrangements for people in your position. Some providers can use donations from the public to partially subsidise the cost of treatment.
Public hospital care is available in most states and territories, though not every state has publicly funded eating disorder beds for children, adolescents, and adults. Public hospital care is typically available for people with a need for a higher intensity service.
If you are unable to access public hospital care near you, you may need to travel to another town or city in your state or neighbouring state. This may also mean that costs of accommodation for your family to stay near you also need to be covered, though some charities can assist with this. Ask your hospital social worker for more information.
You may also be able to access a public hospital bed nearer to you either in a mental health or general medical ward. If this happens, your hospital should contact your state’s specialist eating disorder service so that you can get the care that you need where you are.
If you have private health insurance, you may be able to receive a rebate for mental health services and dietetic services, as well as private hospital treatment if you need it.
Each insurance policy is different, so talk to your health insurer for more information. When speaking with your insurer, it may help to provide information on the profession of the clinician you are receiving treatment from (for example, psychologist, counsellor, occupational therapist) and the type of treatment you are receiving (for example, one-on-one, group). Most private health insurers require that you pay a gap fee.
All Australian states and territories offer free health services, including from community health centres, community mental health services (e.g. AMHS), child and adolescent mental health service (CAMS/CYMHS), and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services.
To find a free health mental health service, start by contacting your local council. They will be able to give you a list of mental health services in your area, including local Non-Government Organisations.
To find a free dietetic service, contact your local community health centre.
Young people seeking support can also contact headspace to access mental health, dietetic and other services both face-to-face and online. More information is available on the headspace website.
Remember that sometimes these services can have longer waiting lists than fee-paying services. If you find you are struggling while you are waiting to receive a service, call them and let them know. They may be able to help you find some other support.
You can always ask your GP for assistance and to ensure that the treatment professional you choose to see has experience in providing treatment for eating disorders and/or has the ANZAED Eating Disorder Credential. Not all treatment providers will have the Credential, but they may be able to provide the treatment you need.
If you would like to talk to someone further about your treatment options, please contact the Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) from 8am-midnight.
Some people with eating disorders may be prescribed medication to assist with symptoms or to help manage associated difficulties like depression or anxiety. These medications may be subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and may cost $20-40 per month. People who hold Health Care Cards or other relevant concession cards are eligible for a further subsidy, so that medications may cost $6-10 per month.
Every person’s experience of an eating disorder is different, and each person will access different services according to their level of need, their available resources, and the services available in their local community.
Some things to keep in mind when thinking about the potential overall cost of your care include:
- Travel costs to receive treatment, including accommodation costs for people who need to access treatment in a different town or city to where they live
- Equipment or home modification costs in some cases
- Costs of alternative therapies if you choose to access these
- Costs of recovery support services or peer workers
- Costs to participate in activities which help you feel connected to your community and help you continue on your recovery journey.
You may also be able to find some of these services and supports for free or low cost through your local council, local community centre or neighbourhood house. Some people with eating disorders may also be able to access funding support for some or all of these costs through the National Disability Insurance Scheme or a Local Area Coordinator. For more information, see the NDIS website.
Remember, if you are feeling concerned or anxious about the costs associated with treatment, you can talk to your GP about options and support.