As a result of our reporting on Emily Gomez back in September, she has been offered free treatment for her eating disorder. She will be receiving intense personal therapy, group therapy and nutritional classes from Remuda Eating Disorder Clinic in Arizona with a value of over 130,000 dollars. Gomez was accepted to New York University- The School of Tisch where she plans to attend in the fall.
More than 11 million people in the United States have eating disorders.
And because an eating disorder can be a life-threatening condition with serious medical consequences, you'd assume that most health insurances polices would cover it. But many people living with eating disorders are falling through the cracks when it comes to health insurance, because in most cases, their treatment is not adequately covered, according to the National Eating Disorders Association.
No one knows that better than the Gomez family. Emily Gomez, 17, is fighting for her life, and her parents are fighting with their insurance company to pay for her treatment.
Emily, who lives on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is a trained singer who dreams of performing on Broadway one day. But a few months ago, instead of travelling to the Great White Way, she travelled instead to an eating disorder clinic called Timberline Knolls Treatment Center in a quiet suburb of Chicago, more than 1,000 miles from home. Emily was previously treated at another treatment center.
"You know, I'd eat a normal dinner and then afterwards just go through my pantry and anything I could find I'd eat," Emily said. "Then I'd go upstairs to my bathroom and then I'd usually end up purging."
Emily now suffers from bulimia, but when she was first diagnosed with an eating disorder about three and a half years ago, she suffered from anorexia. She tried to hide it from her family, but it soon became obvious that Emily was starving herself.
"She would eat two slices of like deli ham and a couple of pieces of lettuce," recalled her mother, Leigh Gomez. "And she would eat some carrots and some cucumbers up to the 300 calorie level. And that would be it for the whole day."
Emily started passing out in school and several times she wound up in the hospital. Her doctor said something had to be done -- and fast.
"Her doctor would look at me and say, 'You have got to do something and quick. … This child is extremely sick, and if you don't do something immediately, you're going to find her dead on the floor,'" Leigh Gomez said.
A team of pediatricians said outpatient care wasn't enough. They said Emily needed long-term residential treatment.
But that treatment is expensive, ranging from $750 to $1,000 a day. Because Emily was so sick, her parents assumed the treatment would be covered by their insurer, but they were wrong.
"Each time I called, they just said I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do for you,'" Leigh Gomez said.
The insurer said nothing could be done, because one section of the family's Blue Cross Blue Shield North Carolina policy -- written in fine print -- caps coverage for mental illnesses at $2,000. And because eating disorders are considered a mental illness by the insurer, that is all it would pay, even though Emily's treatment at her first treatment center, Remuda Ranch, cost the Gomez family more than $50,000.
"It's not covering my family," Leigh Gomez said. "It is destroying my family."