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Eating disorder survivor pushes for more treatment help

The logo for the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa. (Photo: Steffi Lee)

Valerie Huntley is a 20-year eating disorder survivor.

"If I did not receive treatment, I would not be here today," Huntley said.

The National Institute of Mental Health says eating disorders are serious and often fatal illnesses. Some signals include obsessions with food, body weight or shape. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders says up to 30 million Americans of all ages and gender suffer from some sort of eating disorder.

"For me, it was about punishment," Huntley said.

It started when she was 17 years old. Huntley eventually received treatment when she was 21.

Now, she serves as an licensed independent social worker and a board member of the Eating Disorder Coalition of Iowa. She hopes by sharing her story, she can raise awareness of the importance of the assessment and treatment of eating disorders.

Huntley says assessment and treatment both aren't cheap. And according to Huntley, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is the only option in Iowa specifically for in-patient or partial hospitalization for an eating disorder treatment program.

That's why she supported a bill, Senate File 2204, during the 2016 legislative session that would've required private health insurance companies to cover the assessment and treatment of eating disorders. It passed in the Senate, but died in the House.

Huntley says that's of high concern.

"We're talking about thousands of dollars, and I've heard of people taking out second mortgages on their homes," Huntley said about possible treatment costs.

The bill was supported by Senator Matt McCoy (D - Des Moines). McCoy said the goal behind the bill was for families to have access to early intervention.

"We want to provide the tools for parents who are dealing with young people and make sure they're treated in a way that doesn't discriminate against their child's illness against another illness," he said.

Huntley says she hopes to bring the issue back into the spotlight with more outreach.

"It's time to say we care about Iowans and we care about our people," she said.

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