Most experts agree that eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses, but treatments for anorexia is expensive and difficult to get. Many insurance companies force families into a life-or-death struggle for coverage.
For half her life, Kristen Frost has struggled with anorexia. She has been hospitalized four times — and in each instance, her hospitalization was cut off by insurance.
"You blame yourself, you feel worthless," she told The Early Show correspondent Melinda Murphy. "You hit your goal weight and immediately cut off. You're uncomfortable with the weight."
While she fought to save her life, her parents fought with the insurance companies, which forced them to spend $175,000 of their own money.
"It's very difficult," Frost said. "It's something that weighs on me every day."
What's worse, Frost's mother, Joan Frost, claims spending so much time on the insurance battles has cost her three jobs, stressing finances more.
"Every time she's been hospitalized, her dad and I say this is the last time," she said. "We can't do this any more. There's nothing left to do it with. And we still managed to find a way."
Most states don't treat eating disorders like other illnesses. That's something the National Eating Disorder Association is trying to change.
"Most mental illnesses deal with the neck up, if you'll forgive me," Lynn Grefe, the group's executive director. "But eating disorders deal with the top of your head all the way down to the toes because they ravage your body."
Brian Smith's daughter Janell often wrote him letters before she lost her battle with anorexia.
"Thank you for being there. Your support means more than I can express," one letter said.
Janell Smith appeared to have it all: talent, looks and a close family. Her sister Diana Wilson didn't fully understand Janell's dark secret until one day when Janell showed her.
"She came to me and said, 'I really wanna know your opinion,'" Wilson said. "And she took off the majority of her clothes. And when I saw how skinny her arms were and her ribs out and all that I was crushed.
Soon after, Janell was hospitalized — twice within a few months. The second time, the insurance company called her parents after three weeks to say they were withdrawing coverage, a decision her doctors felt would put her at greater risk for relapse.
"The counselor said, 'nobody's talked to us about next step strategies. In fact, we don't support this. The insurance company is pulling the plug,'" he said. "That was her words."
The Smiths didn't realize they could appeal the decision. Janell left the clinic. Only days later, her father went looking for her after she didn't answer his calls.
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