Why the KE Feeding Tube Diet is Ableist

Ableism is defined as the discrimination of disabled people.

The KE Diet has been around for years. It touts the fact that it’s medically supervised, uses no drugs, requires no surgery, and will leave you with no hunger. Sounds like a miracle, right? Instead of lifestyle and dietary changes, the KE Diet inserts a NG tube up your nose and down into your stomach. You’re fed only protein and fats over a 10 day period. This diet has been dubbed “the feeding tube diet” because that’s all it is. People are electing to get a feeding tube in a vain attempt to lose weight.

While it may seem harmless to the average person, as someone with an abdominal GJ feeding tube, the KE Diet is incredibly offensive to those who need a feeding tube to survive. A feeding tube is not a fad or a quick fix. It’s a medical device that saves the lives of millions of people each day. Feeding tubes were designed for those who cannot eat or get adequate nutrition orally, whatever the reason may be. Quite frankly, it’s a slap in the face to those of us with feeding tubes to use something we depend on to live as a means to lose weight fast. To have the ability to use a life-saving medical device as a choice and not a necessity is ableist.

But the problematic nature of the KE Diet doesn’t stop there. Did you know your doctor can’t just decide you need a feeding tube and have that be it, no questions asked? Insurance needs to deem it 100% medically necessary in order for them to cover the surgery, continual aftercare, and supplies. This includes invasive and painful tests to “prove” you need a feeding tube. As well as sometimes a change in diagnosis code, since insurances won’t cover a feeding tube for gastroparesis, but they’ll cover one for failure to thrive. It’s a painstaking process that often leaves people, who desperately need a feeding tube, quite literally starving to death.

Here’s the story of Kathy Gratton-Wilcox, who’s insurance will not cover a feeding tube because they don’t deem it “medically necessary”:

Kathy was told by home health services that her feeding tube would be covered. While she waited on her doctor’s orders for formula, she ended up having to reschedule the surgery 5 times because the doctor felt no urgency writing a single script. Once she got the tube placed, she found out nothing would be covered. Because Kathy isn’t in renal failure or unable to swallow, her insurance will not cover enteral feedings or equipment. Certain insurances only cover feeding tubes for certain diagnoses, often leaving patients with chronic illnesses off the list. While Kathy is working with her doctor to recode the reason for her tube and hopefully get her supplies covered, she currently pays $70/month for her pump rental, $6/day for her feed bags that she needs daily, $2-$8/can for her actual formula at 5 cans daily and that doesn’t include the other supplies she needs like gauze and syringes, to name a few. It also doesn’t include her medication or other her medical costs.

Kathy isn’t alone in her struggles with her feeding tube. Because of ableist fads like the KE Diet, feeding tubes are taken less seriously by medical professionals and insurances. The popularity of the KE Diet could potentially be killing those who really need a feeding tube. So before you hop on board for a quick fix, think about the impact it could be making on chronically ill and disabled folks.

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