Eating disorders in the U.S. Medicare population

Int J Eat Disord. 2022 Mar;55(3):362-371. doi: 10.1002/eat.23676. Epub 2022 Jan 13.


Objective: The social and economic burden of eating disorders is significant and often financially devastating. Medicare is the largest public insurer in the United States and provides coverage for older adults and some disabled individuals. This study explores prevalence, sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, and health care spending for Medicare enrollees with eating disorders.

Method: A cross-sectional study was conducted with the nationally representative 20% sample of 2016 Medicare inpatient, outpatient, carrier, and home health fee-for-service claims and Medicare Advantage encounter records. Sociodemographic characteristics and comorbid somatic conditions were compared between individuals with versus without an eating disorder diagnosis. Mean spending was compared overall and separately for inpatient, outpatient, home health, and pharmacy claims.

Results: The sample included 11,962,287 Medicare enrollees of whom 0.15% had an eating disorder diagnosis. Compared to those without a 2016 eating disorder diagnosis, a greater proportion of individuals with an eating disorder were female (73.8% vs. 54.3%), under age 65 (41.6% vs. 15.5%), and dually eligible for Medicaid due to disability or low-income qualification (48.0% vs. 19.6%). Individuals with eating disorders had higher rates of comorbid conditions, with the greatest differences in cardiac arrythmias (35.3% vs. 19.9%), arthritis (40.1% vs. 26.6%), and thyroid conditions (32.2% vs. 19.4%). Spending was higher for enrollees with eating disorders compared to those without overall ($29,456 vs. $7,418) and across settings.

Discussion: The findings establish that eating disorders occur in the Medicare population, and that enrollees with these illnesses have risk factors associated with significant healthcare spending and adverse health outcomes.

Keywords: Medicare; anorexia nervosa; binge-eating disorder; bulimia nervosa; eating disorders; health expenditures; health insurance; health policy; healthcare costs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Health Expenditures
  • Humans
  • Medicaid
  • Medicare*
  • United States / epidemiology