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HomeHealth InsurancePsychological Well being ‘Ghost Networks’ — And a Ghostbuster

Psychological Well being ‘Ghost Networks’ — And a Ghostbuster

Many individuals looking for a therapist or psychiatrist flip to the checklist of in-network suppliers provided by their insurance coverage plan. However usually, lots of the docs on the checklist don’t take that insurance coverage plan, aren’t accepting new sufferers, or just don’t reply the cellphone. Researchers and journalists name this phenomenon a “ghost community.”

So, who you gonna name once you encounter a ghost community? A ghostbuster.

That’s the place Abigail Burman is available in. Burman is a lawyer who has studied ghost networks and volunteers her “ghostbusting” companies to assist individuals in her life navigate these networks and acquire care.

On this episode of “An Arm and a Leg,” host Dan Weissmann speaks with Burman about what it took to get her good friend the care she wanted and what steps you may take to get insurance coverage to pay for remedy.

Dan Weissmann


Host and producer of “An Arm and a Leg.” Beforehand, Dan was a employees reporter for Market and Chicago’s WBEZ. His work additionally seems on All Issues Thought of, Market, the BBC, 99 P.c Invisible, and Reveal, from the Middle for Investigative Reporting.


Emily Pisacreta

Adam Raymonda
Audio Wizard

Afi Yellow-Duke

Click on to open the Transcript

Transcript: Psychological Well being ‘Ghost Networks’ — And a Ghostbuster

Notice: “An Arm and a Leg” makes use of speech-recognition software program to generate transcripts, which can include errors. Please use the transcript as a instrument however test the corresponding audio earlier than quoting the podcast.

Dan: Hey there–

So, one subject we’ve NOT addressed on this present till now has been psychological well being. And it’s not as a result of it isn’t essential, proper?

Simply ask anyone who’s lived via a multi-year world pandemic.

And it’s not like ACCESS to psychological well being care — determining the best way to pay for it, or the best way to get insurance coverage to pay for it — isn’t an issue.

Truly, just about the other. It’s possibly the largest downside. It’s simply notoriously horrible.

We haven’t gone there as a result of, effectively, primary: The horror tales are limitless.

And two, I’ve had completely nothing to supply, when it comes to what are we gonna do about it. Till now. As a result of now I’ve met any individual who has truly received a battle on this terrible area…

Abigail Burman: my title is Abigail Burman and I’m an legal professional specializing in client safety healthcare and expertise.

Dan: Abigail’s additionally a coverage skilled on a few of these issues And she or he’s change into a problem-solver for individuals in her life.

Abigail Burman: It’s change into somewhat little bit of my superpower to only assist buddies discover an in-network therapist or in-network psychiatrist.

Dan: Or, if there’s principally no such factor, to get their insurance coverage to pay for an out-of-network supplier.

She despatched me a guidelines she’d posted to a web-based discussion board, with the title, “A broad information to getting remedy/psych appointments lined when you may’t discover anybody in community”

It’s primarily based on steps Abigail took on behalf of a good friend just lately, and it’s terrific.

It combines the same old unreasonable quantity of persistence and grit, and time that not all people has– and provides some key authorized data.

Now, this authorized key received’t open each door, after all. It’s form — and whether or not it’ll work in any respect for you– relies on the place you get your insurance coverage, and on the place you reside.

Actually, even with that authorized data on her aspect, the steps in Abigail’s guidelines aren’t precisely what labored for Abigail on this case. It took extra.

Once more, greater than is cheap. Greater than most of us have in us, frankly.

However we’ll share what did work — as a result of there ARE insights right here that even us non-superheroes can positively use :

And past the mechanics, the particular suggestions, I discover Abigail’s strategy — the spirit during which she suggests we apply ourselves to those issues– for ourselves or for others —actually refreshing.

That is An Arm and a Leg, a present about why well being care prices so freaking a lot, and what we are able to possibly do about it. I’m Dan Weissmann, I’m a reporter, and I like a

So our job on this present is to take one of the crucial enraging, terrifying, miserable components of American life — and infrequently has that phrase “miserable” carried extra weight than on this story about psychological well being– and produce you one thing entertaining, empowering and helpful.

Abigail’s private super-powers develop out of her coverage analysis.

Abigail Burman: In order with all good tutorial work, it began with a grudge. That is my tremendous villain origin story.

Dan: It began throughout her first semester in regulation college, when she made an essential discovery.

Abigail Burman: regulation college is uh, a poisonous stress cooker, and so I, like a variety of my classmates realized halfway via that speaking to somebody could be a good suggestion.

Dan: So she seemed up the therapists in her insurance coverage firm’s listing.

Abigail Burman: I referred to as most likely 20 docs and didn’t hear again from anybody. I truly ended up seeing somebody out of community.

Dan: And she or he obtained mad. And she or he determined: I’m gonna discover out what the hell is occurring right here. So she spent just about the remainder of regulation college researching precisely that.

And her analysis confirmed her: This factor she’d skilled? It was a identified factor. It had a reputation.

Researchers and journalists referred to as it a “ghost community.”

A “ghost community” is the place your insurance coverage firm says to you: You want a therapist? Oh positive. Right here’s an inventory of therapists who take our insurance coverage– our “community listing.”

And possibly you name a couple of. Possibly you name twenty, like Abigail. Possibly you name 73, which is what one lady did, based on a current Washington Put up story. Yep. 73.

They usually say, “What? No, we don’t take that insurance coverage.” Or, “We’re not taking new shoppers.” Or no person even solutions the cellphone as a result of it’s been disconnected for a very long time.

And the issue isn’t that you just’re having unhealthy luck. The issue is: The community itself — all these suppliers supposedly ready to take your name and take your insurance coverage — is a ghost, a illusion.

After all, operating right into a ghost community can conjure up all the sentiments of being ghosted.

Abigail Burman: That may be so isolating once you simply assume this can be a private annoyance fairly than with the ability to title it as an even bigger downside with your entire system.

Dan: I imply, it may possibly additionally really feel like, it may possibly really feel like a private failure, proper? Like, oh, an actual grownup may do that.

Abigail Burman: Precisely. If I simply organized my life higher, if I simply tried tougher, this is able to be higher.

Dan: However Abigail’s analysis confirmed her: This isn’t a private failing. A examine of networks in only one metropolis, Washington, DC, discovered that solely half of the cellphone numbers listed even labored in any respect.

And Abigail’s on a regular basis expertise confirmed her: These findings in Washington, DC, weren’t figuring out an remoted hassle spot


Abigail Burman: I spotted I used to be onto one thing once I would inform individuals about this and everybody has a narrative.

Dan: So she let her rage gasoline years of educational work. She printed some findings in an extended article for the Yale Legislation and Coverage Overview referred to as Laying Ghost Networks to Relaxation.

The paper paperwork the issue’s scale — spoiler alert, it’s REALLY huge, and never restricted to psychological well being — and lays out coverage prescriptions for preventing them.

In the meantime, Abigail has graduated from regulation college, and moved to DC. Now it’s late 2022. Abigail’s good friend wants a therapist, and he or she’s like…

Abigail Burman: Put me in. I’m prepared.

Dan: This begins with Abigail’s good friend attempting issues the “regular” method:

Abigail Burman: They referred to as like 10 or so and simply aren’t getting any hits both individuals are not truly taking new sufferers or they simply usually are not replying. I feel we obtained one or two fallacious numbers.

Dan: Once more, regular. And never a step you may skip. Going up towards this downside — and documenting it — is what provides you standing to inform the insurance coverage firm to resolve it for you.

Abigail Burman: That they had managed to get via to at least one supplier, however they saved saying that their earliest appointment could be in 4 months, which is unacceptable And so that is the place I got here in.

Dan: It’s unacceptable morally. It’s unacceptable as a therapy plan. And since Abigail has studied the regulation right here, she is aware of it’s unacceptable legally. No less than in some conditions. Together with her good friend’s.

Abigail Burman: Reasonably priced Care Act, market plans, Medicaid plans, and Medicare plans are all topic to guidelines round community adequacy.

Dan: Community adequacy: If you happen to’re gonna take away one authorized time period from this episode that’s the large one: Community adequacy. Are there sufficient docs in your community to truly present care?

That’s the bedrock for every little thing else right here.

Abigail Burman: Let’s say you might have like a 500 particular person listing, two of them will truly choose up in case you name, however discovering them requires the opposite 498. That’s not what you might be entitled to. That’s not an sufficient community. The important thing with all of those guidelines and rules is that, um, it’s meant to make searching for care not a burden.

That if you find yourself already in a spot of misery, it must be fairly straightforward so that you can attain out and get assist. And I feel that needs to be your guidepost. Take into consideration what it’s affordable to anticipate of somebody in your state of affairs.

Dan: So, in case you’ve referred to as, say, ten numbers and are arising empty, you’ve obtained fairly good proof that the reply is… what’s being anticipated of you isn’t affordable.

You’re gonna be telling the insurance coverage firm: If you happen to’ve obtained an sufficient community, show it.

Abigail Burman: Your stance at that time that you just wanna maintain agency in is, I’ve referred to as docs. I’ve performed my job, I’ve spent this many hours.

Thanks. However no, I can’t be doing that anymore. Now the burdens shift to you.

Dan: In different phrases, in case your community actually is sufficient, you’ve gotta discover me any individual in it. Or pay for me to go outdoors of it.

And I’ve gotta acknowledge right here: As bedrock goes, it’s … fragmented. And incomplete. For starters, each state makes its personal guidelines for community adequacy.

And inside a given state, the principles are completely different for these three completely different sorts of plans: Obamacare plans, Medicaid, and Medicare.

And for lots of us who get insurance coverage from work… we’d be an entire completely different authorized construction.

However past the authorized specifics the essential concept is: Someplace, in some way, you’ve obtained a proper to precise care from any individual who takes your insurance coverage.

Insurance coverage is a contract. They’re getting one thing — cash — and also you’re imagined to get one thing: Entry to care from any individual for in-network charges.

Abigail Burman: Both you or another person is paying so that you can get this service out of your insurer. That is what that cash is meant to cowl. And in case you can’t get that, somebody’s simply getting cash at no cost.

Dan: So, I’m simply gonna be aware a few Abigail’s broad tips right here, and we’ll submit a hyperlink to her full guidelines wherever you’re listening to this.

And we’ll complement it with a few of what Abigail informed me once we talked. For now, the gist is:

Her checklist begins with authorized phrases like “community adequacy” that you could mix in a Google search– together with the title of your state– to see how they apply to your state of affairs.

And it ends with some common goal recommendation like, quote “The hot button is to be an enormous asshole.” Unquote.

Abigail Burman: I don’t imply, you understand, screaming at individuals utilizing swear phrases, et cetera, however it may possibly really feel like you might be being a jerk in case you stand your floor and say no. However it’s price it. And if nothing else, simply keep in mind that. Such as you’re by no means gonna speak to any of those individuals once more.In all probability.

So, worse involves worse, in case you get too wired, you may dangle up and name once more.

Dan: In different phrases, the important thing isn’t to BE an asshole. It’s to tolerate FEELING such as you’re being an asshole.

However what you’re doing is letting the opposite particular person know: You realize your precise rights.

I inform Abigail, it jogs my memory of how Jacqueline Fox– a regulation professor who used to do this sort of problem-solving as an legal professional — put it: You need the particular person on the opposite aspect to get the sensation, “There’s a grown-up right here who appears to be getting irritated.”

Abigail Burman: Precisely. I feel that’s the, the precise vibe you need is type of, um, I’m disillusioned, not offended. And I, that’s how I strive to enter these is kind of like, right here is the rule, here’s what you might have performed. I merely don’t perceive why you may’t adjust to the regulation. Um, additionally like to you, you at all times wanna put a particular request on the finish.

Uh, say precisely what you need, um, simply so it’s actually clear. Uh, and ideally, you understand, say, I, I anticipate to answer again by this time, simply so there’s one thing preserving the dialog transferring. If you happen to don’t get a response, you may then comply with up and say, I believed, you understand, I’d ask for a reply by then. The place, the place is my reply?

Um, and so, yeah, that’s type of the, the final construction you wanna absorb these interactions is like, I’ve seen that. Like, I do know that is what I’m entitled to. That is what occurred. How are we, collectively working collectively, going to repair this?

Dan: Arising in a minute: What occurred when Abigail truly went into battle for her good friend.


This episode of An Arm and a Leg is produced in partnership with KFF Well being Information. That’s a nonprofit newsroom masking well being care in America., Their work wins every kind of journalism awards yearly, and I’m honored to work with them.

So, Abigail’s good friend had referred to as a bunch of therapists that have been imagined to be lined by their insurance coverage– discovered bupkis. Abigail steps in.

Her good friend occurs to be on Medicaid, which is type of a best-case situation for this kind of factor: Not solely is Medicaid regulated by states, there are typically detailed guidelines — contractual language even — about issues like community adequacy.

Abigail seemed up the particular regs that utilized in her good friend’s case, saved them available, and began in with the cellphone calling.

If you happen to’ve been listening for some time, or in case you’ve performed one thing like this, a few of what occurred will probably be acquainted.

As soon as the primary few calls didn’t get anyplace, Abigail began working her method up.

Abigail Burman: The language that’s usually used is you wanna ask to have your criticism or your grievance escalated. You need it to go to somebody who possibly has somewhat extra energy, little extra expertise.

Dan: She thinks it took possibly 5 calls to get to anyone on the insurance coverage firm whose response went past, “Huh? No matter. Sucks to be you.”

Abigail Burman: I lastly obtained a lady who was like, yeah, that is unhealthy. What you need is what we name an administrative grievance. She mentioned, okay, I’m going to with you on the cellphone. I’m gonna name two or three docs and see if they’ve an appointment. If not, we are going to file an administrative grievance.

Dan: The girl dialed a couple of docs whereas Abigail was on the cellphone, obtained nowhere, and filed an administrative grievance.

Which, you understand, nice. However that’s not a health care provider’s appointment. File it beneath Abigail’s common recommendation of: Do every little thing. Go on report all over the place. And maintain going.

Subsequent, Abigail saved calling, saved asking to speak with somebody on the insurance coverage firm with extra juice. Somebody who may truly authorize paying for an appointment with an out-of-network doc, since there weren’t in-network docs.

And after one other like full day on the cellphone, she obtained to that somebody.

Abigail made her particular request: I would like you to authorize fee for out-of-network supplier, because the rules require. And…

Abigail Burman: They are saying we’ve no course of for this. This doesn’t exist.

Dan: Like, this factor that the regulation says they should do– get you a supplier and lower a test — this particular person’s saying they don’t have any course of for it.

Abigail Burman: I learn them the regulation over the cellphone. It didn’t, didn’t change their place.

Dan: I might’ve actually struggled in that dialog to include my rage. I imply, it’s simply flabbergasting, proper? Like, I spent all day getting on the cellphone. I imply, all of this jogs my memory of the Wizard of Oz, and so they have been like, nobody can see Oz.

And you understand, she’s, she’s like, I’m going to see him. And, after which she sees him and he’s like, go away and are available again tomorrow. . I’m Oz.

Abigail Burman: precisely. It’s a, it’s a full runaround. Um, and so once you get to this place, I feel you need to let the trend gasoline you, possibly take a break, eat some snacks.

Dan: And maintain going with different methods. Together with ones that will appear fairly out of the best way at first.

So Abigail referred to as the workplace of her good friend’s state consultant.

And of all the teachings from Abigail’s story, this one stands out as the MOST essential.

Abigail Burman: That is the key trick for any interplay you might be having, largely with authorities companies, but additionally generally with non-public firms. Um, your whole elected representatives from native via to Congress, they’ve staffers whose solely job it’s, is to make your interactions with these methods simpler.

Dan: Abigail truly labored for a member of Congress as soon as upon a time, so she’s seen this all from the opposite aspect.

Abigail Burman: Your elected representatives, have huge sources at their disposal. And the great ones know that the best way you get reelected is by serving to individuals with their particular issues and can go outta their option to do it.

Dan: You don’t should be a former Congressional aide your self to name your state consultant’s workplace. I imply, normally, a state rep doesn’t even have THAT many constituents. However they do have employees.

So, Abigail didn’t name the state rep’s workplace as a result of she knew somebody there. She referred to as as a result of she knew what somebody there may DO.

And now you understand it too.

Abigail Burman: These staffers have secret cellphone numbers, they’ve electronic mail addresses, they get issues mounted.

Dan: A staffer had given Abigail a direct electronic mail to the proper particular person on the state regulator’s workplace–.

Abigail Burman: And so we emailed them, obtained a reply again virtually instantly saying, yeah, you’re proper, that is unhealthy.

Dan: After which she heard from any individual ELSE altogether.

Abigail Burman: I feel inside an hour or two, uh, obtained a cellphone name from the healthcare plans lobbyists for the state, saying that, yeah, she was personally going to repair this, promising an appointment inside the subsequent two days.

Dan: Holy shit. I imply I like that it’s the lobbyist 

Abigail Burman: Yeah, that was particular.

Dan: I imply, it’s very attention-grabbing, proper? That just like the official channels didn’t go anyplace. That what occurred was the political actor obtained concerned and a political actor on the insurance coverage aspect got here and made it occur.

Abigail Burman: Precisely. The hot button is you simply, you need to maintain transferring up and you need to press on all of the levers that you could.

Dan: On this case, as a result of Abigail’s good friend was on Medicaid, the state was truly paying the insurance coverage firm immediately, so getting them concerned was most likely a more practical lever than in different conditions. Nevertheless it labored!

One thing truly labored.

And making that occur took an unbelievable quantity of labor, quantity of sources. That is among the BIG take-aways right here, and it’s not precisely a cheerful one.

Abigail estimates she put like half a workweek into this. [I mean, holy crap.]

Abigail Burman: I used to be fortunate sufficient to be in a job the place I, I may, you understand, my boss was understanding I could possibly be taking these calls on the workplace for generally hours at a time.

Dan: And she or he’s fluent in English. And she or he’s comfy navigating paperwork, to say the least.

Abigail Burman: I’m a lawyer who labored in healthcare coverage earlier than regulation college, and I do that work professionally, and it nonetheless took me so lengthy. And that was with the added privilege of, getting taken significantly due to my schooling, as a result of I’m white, due to all these items.

Dan: I imply, all of those benefits are among the many causes Abigail’s agency fees lots of of {dollars} an hour for her time.

So the sources it took to get this particular person win are, on that scale, staggering. It completely blows.

And but: The a part of Abigail’s story that stands out essentially the most to me– past the particular suggestions, and past the outrage– is an concept that we’ve began speaking somewhat extra about on this present just lately.

We’ve talked for a very long time about self-defense towards this terrible system. However self protection solely will get us thus far — particularly once we’re truly sick, or needing assist. We’re not in the most effective place to interact in a battle.

However we are able to battle for one another. And also you don’t at all times should be a lawyer.

Abigail Burman: This can be a service you may present for individuals. If you’re the kind of particular person or you understand, somebody who actually enjoys renegotiating their web plan, you’ll most likely be nice at this.

Dan: Generally simply exhibiting up is sufficient. Particularly in costume.

Abigail Burman: I’ve gone and simply stood within the nook for individuals to be the scary one who’s carrying a swimsuit.

Dan: And also you don’t at all times even want a swimsuit. We talked just lately with knowledgeable advocate who mentioned, “After I get on a name with a consumer and say, ‘I’m her advocate,’ I can really feel the particular person on the opposite finish of the road straighten up somewhat bit.”

And as we mentioned then: You don’t should be knowledgeable to say “I’m this particular person’s advocate.” 

The particular person on the opposite finish of the cellphone doesn’t have to know you’re that particular person’s roommate, or simply their good friend.

The concept is, take what you might have — no matter data you might have, no matter abilities you might have, no matter TIME you might have, and sure no matter privilege you might have — and see in case you can put it to make use of.

Abigail Burman: You realize, that this, uh, we speak lots about mutual help and networks of care and I feel this can be a big a part of it’s simply exhibiting up for the paperwork aspect.

Dan: After all, that’s not going to make all of the distinction we’d like.

Abigail Burman: Looking for our buddies, serving to individuals in our neighborhood is simply gonna get us thus far, we nonetheless want so many extra modifications from lawmakers to make this a system that works for everybody.

Dan: And sure, after all that’s true. So Abigail is on the market advocating for coverage change. However as a result of none of that’s taking place tomorrow she’s ALSO exhibiting up proper now for individuals in her life, serving to battle one battle at a time.

So, simply to overview, I’m taking three huge issues from Abigail’s battle right here.

One is somewhat basket of doable instruments: Take into consideration “community adequacy” as a requirement — your insurance coverage firm owes you a health care provider. Take into consideration the disappointed-not-angry vibe. Take into consideration your state rep’s workplace as a doable useful resource. — and once more, we’re gonna submit a few of what Abigail has written so you could find it from wherever you’re listening to this.

Two: Jesus Christ, this was a variety of work. Even with Abigail’s SIGNIFICANT benefits, and the varied items of knowledge she shared about hacking via, this isn’t somebody most of us may simply tackle.

And three: Let’s take into consideration these as fights we tackle for one another.

That’s one thing I actually need to work towards, one thing I hope this present can do: How can we change into a neighborhood — nevertheless huge, nevertheless free — of oldsters who may help one another HELP EACH OTHER?

It’s huge. We’ll take it one step at a time.

For now, in case you haven’t already, take a look at our First Help Package publication. That’s the place we’ve been writing down a variety of the ideas and methods we’ve been studying about HOW to tackle these fights.

You could find every little thing we’ve written thus far — greater than twenty installments thus far — at arm and a leg present dot com, slash, first help package.

I’ll catch you quickly.

Until then, care for your self.

This episode of An Arm and a Leg was produced by me, Dan Weissmann, with assist from Emily Pisacreta, and edited by Afi Yellow-Duke and Ellen Weiss — welcome aboard, Ellen!

Daisy Rosario is our consulting managing producer. Adam Raymonda is our audio wizard. Our music is by Dave Winer and Blue Dot Classes.

Gabrielle Healy is our managing editor for viewers. She edits the First Help Package Publication.

Bea Bosco is our consulting director of operations. Sarah Ballema is our operations supervisor.

An Arm and a Leg is produced in partnership with KFF Well being Information–previously often known as Kaiser Well being Information.

That’s a nationwide newsroom producing in-depth journalism about well being care in America, and a core program at KFF — an unbiased supply of well being coverage analysis, polling, and journalism.

And sure, you probably did hear the title Kaiser in there, and no: KFF isn’t affiliated with the well being care big Kaiser Permanente. You may study extra about KFF Well being Information at arm and a leg present dot com, slash KFF.

Zach Dyer is senior audio producer at KFF Well being Information. He’s editorial liaison to this present.

Due to Public Narrative — That’s a Chicago-based group that helps journalists and nonprofits inform higher tales– for serving as our fiscal sponsor, permitting us to just accept tax-exempt donations. 

You may study extra about Public Narrative at www dot public narrative dot org.

And because of all people who helps this present financially.

If you happen to haven’t but, we’d love so that you can be part of us. The place for that’s arm and a leg present dot com, slash help.


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