There's no way around it: anorexia (and other eating disorders) are difficult, expensive illnesses to treat. The good news is that effective treatments are available. Recovery can be a long, winding road (as I and other families know), but new research is showing the most effective ways to treat anorexia.
James Lock and his group out of Stanford University published an article in the latest issue of Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, titled "Costs of Remission and Recovery Using Family Therapy for Adolescent Anorexia Nervosa: A Descriptive Report." He looked at the costs to treat adolescents with AN and their families with a standard Family-Based Treatment approach.
The majority of the costs (72%), Lock found, were due to medical hospitalization, before or during outpatient treatment. Another 20% were due to outpatient psychiatric treatment, a much smaller percentage than is traditionally given. Noted Lock: "This result may be due to the specific outpatient management strategy used in this study which employed parents as the main agents for change. In cases where this approach is effective, this results in decreasing both the intensity of treatment as well as the need for other types of treatment such as individual, group, nutritional counselling, or other forms of treatment that would add expense."
Due to differences in insurance, the final costs listed in the paper did not factor in health coverage, or any deductibles and co-pays. The costs listed, then are the market cost of treatment and NOT what most people with insurance coverage would pay. Costs, however, would still be extensive. The study also failed to factor in food costs (which can be significant) and extraneous costs such as time off work for parents. Obviously, this would vary greatly from family to family, but again, these costs are significant.
Lock found that costs to recovery can vary widely, ranging from USD$33,000 for "partial remission," defined as weight >85% IBW, to USD$84,000 for full recovery (weight >95% IBW and Eating Disorder Examination scores in the normal range). This treatment is more expensive than that of even schizophrenia. But, considering that the average residential treatment stay lasts for 90 days, costs approximately USD$84,000 (often not covered by insurance), and lacks the scientific research and integrity of evidence based methods.
The Stanford group concluded that when "compared to costs described for adults with AN, adolescent treatment costs appear to be lower when families are used effectively to aid in treatment."