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

So, who you gonna name if 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” providers to assist folks in her life navigate these networks and procure 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’ll be able to take to get insurance coverage to pay for remedy.

Dan Weissmann


Host and producer of “An Arm and a Leg.” Beforehand, Dan was a workers reporter for Market and Chicago’s WBEZ. His work additionally seems on All Issues Thought of, Market, the BBC, 99 % 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

Word: “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 verify the corresponding audio earlier than quoting the podcast.

Dan: Hey there–

So, one matter we now have 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 by means of a multi-year international pandemic.

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

Truly, just about the alternative. It’s possibly the largest drawback. It’s simply notoriously horrible.

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

And two, I’ve had completely nothing to supply, by way of what are we gonna do about it. Till now. As a result of now I’ve met someone who has really gained a battle on this terrible area…

Abigail Burman: my identify is Abigail Burman and I’m an lawyer specializing in client safety healthcare and expertise.

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

Abigail Burman: It’s develop into a little bit little bit of my superpower to only assist associates 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’ll be able to’t discover anybody in community”

It’s based mostly on steps Abigail took on behalf of a good friend not too long ago, and it’s terrific.

It combines the standard unreasonable quantity of persistence and grit, and time that not everyone has– and provides some key authorized data.

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

In reality, 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 affordable. 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 precise ideas, I discover Abigail’s strategy — the spirit through 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 challen.ge.

So our job on this present is to take one of the enraging, terrifying, miserable elements of American life — and barely 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 legislation faculty, when she made an essential discovery.

Abigail Burman: legislation faculty is uh, a poisonous strain cooker, and so I, like quite a lot of my classmates realized halfway by means of that speaking to somebody could be a good suggestion.

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

Abigail Burman: I referred to as in all probability 20 medical doctors and didn’t hear again from anybody. I really ended up seeing somebody out of community.

Dan: And he or she obtained mad. And he or she determined: I’m gonna discover out what the hell is occurring right here. So she spent just about the remainder of legislation faculty 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 a listing of therapists who take our insurance coverage– our “community listing.”

And possibly you name just a few. Possibly you name twenty, like Abigail. Possibly you name 73, which is what one girl did, based on a current Washington Publish story. Yep. 73.

And so they say, “What? No, we don’t take that insurance coverage.” Or, “We’re not taking new purchasers.” Or no person even solutions the telephone 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.

In fact, operating right into a ghost community can conjure up all the emotions of being ghosted.

Abigail Burman: That may be so isolating if you simply assume it is a private annoyance fairly than with the ability to identify it as a much bigger drawback with the complete system.

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

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

Dan: However Abigail’s analysis confirmed her: This isn’t a private failing. A research of networks in only one metropolis, Washington, DC, discovered that solely half of the telephone 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 bother spot


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

Dan: So she let her rage gas years of educational work. She revealed some findings in a protracted article for the Yale Regulation and Coverage Assessment referred to as Laying Ghost Networks to Relaxation.

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

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

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

Dan: This begins with Abigail’s good friend making an attempt issues the “regular” manner:

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

Dan: Once more, regular. And never a step you’ll be able to skip. Going up in opposition to this drawback — and documenting it — is what offers you standing to inform the insurance coverage firm to unravel it for you.

Abigail Burman: That they had managed to get by means of to 1 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 legislation right here, she is aware of it’s unacceptable legally. No less than in some conditions. Together with her good friend’s.

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

Dan: Community adequacy: For those who’re gonna take away one authorized time period from this episode that’s the massive one: Community adequacy. Are there sufficient medical doctors in your community to really present care?

That’s the bedrock for the whole lot else right here.

Abigail Burman: Let’s say you may have like a 500 particular person listing, two of them will really choose up for those who 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 looking for care not a burden.

That if you end up already in a spot of misery, it must be moderately simple so that you can attain out and get assist. And I believe that needs to be your guidepost. Take into consideration what it’s cheap to anticipate of somebody in your scenario.

Dan: So, for those who’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 cheap.

You’re gonna be telling the insurance coverage firm: For those who’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 medical doctors. I’ve carried out my job, I’ve spent this many hours.

Thanks. However no, I cannot 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 someone in it. Or pay for me to go exterior 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 totally different for these three totally different sorts of plans: Obamacare plans, Medicaid, and Medicare.

And for lots of us who get insurance coverage from work… we’d be taking a look at a complete totally different authorized construction.

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

Insurance coverage is a contract. They’re getting one thing — cash — and also you’re alleged to get one thing: Entry to care from someone 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 for those who can’t get that, somebody’s simply getting cash without cost.

Dan: So, I’m simply gonna observe a few Abigail’s broad pointers right here, and we’ll put up 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 record begins with authorized phrases like “community adequacy” that you would be able to mix in a Google search– together with the identify of your state– to see how they apply to your scenario.

And it ends with some common objective recommendation like, quote “The bottom line is to be a large asshole.” Unquote.

Abigail Burman: I don’t imply, you understand, screaming at folks utilizing swear phrases, et cetera, however it might probably really feel like you might be being a jerk for those who stand your floor and say no. However it’s price it. And if nothing else, simply do not forget that. Such as you’re by no means gonna speak to any of those folks once more.Most likely.

So, worse involves worse, for those who get too stressed, you’ll be able to cling 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 already know your precise rights.

I inform Abigail, it jogs my memory of how Jacqueline Fox– a legislation professor who used to do this sort of problem-solving as an lawyer — 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 believe that’s the, the precise vibe you need is sort of, um, I’m upset, not indignant. And I, that’s how I strive to enter these is type of like, right here is the rule, here’s what you may have carried out. I merely don’t perceive why you’ll be able to’t adjust to the legislation. Um, additionally like to you, you all the time 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. For those who don’t get a response, you’ll be able to 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 sort of the, the final construction you wanna soak up 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 really 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 overlaying 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 had been alleged to be lined by their insurance coverage– discovered bupkis. Abigail steps in.

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

Abigail appeared up the precise regs that utilized in her good friend’s case, saved them available, and began in with the telephone calling.

For those who’ve been listening for some time, or for those who’ve carried out one thing like this, a few of what occurred shall be acquainted.

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

Abigail Burman: The language that’s usually used is you wanna ask to have your grievance or your grievance escalated. You need it to go to somebody who possibly has a little bit 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 girl who was like, yeah, that is unhealthy. What you need is what we name an administrative grievance. She stated, okay, I’m going to with you on the telephone. I’m gonna name two or three medical doctors and see if they’ve an appointment. If not, we’ll file an administrative grievance.

Dan: The girl dialed just a few medical doctors whereas Abigail was on the telephone, obtained nowhere, and filed an administrative grievance.

Which, you understand, nice. However that’s not a physician’s appointment. File it below Abigail’s common recommendation of: Do the whole lot. Go on document in all places. And preserve going.

Subsequent, Abigail saved calling, saved asking to speak with somebody on the insurance coverage firm with extra juice. Somebody who might really 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 telephone, she obtained to that somebody.

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

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

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

Abigail Burman: I learn them the regulation over the telephone. 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 telephone. I imply, all of this jogs my memory of the Wizard of Oz, they usually had 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 if you get to this place, I believe it’s a must to let the craze gas you, possibly take a break, eat some snacks.

Dan: And preserve 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 could be the MOST essential.

Abigail Burman: That is the key trick for any interplay you might be having, largely with authorities businesses, but additionally typically with personal firms. Um, your whole elected representatives from native by means of to Congress, they’ve staffers whose solely job it’s, is to make your interactions with these methods simpler.

Dan: Abigail really 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 folks with their particular issues and can go outta their method to do it.

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

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 might DO.

And now you understand it too.

Abigail Burman: These staffers have secret telephone numbers, they’ve e-mail addresses, they get issues mounted.

Dan: A staffer had given Abigail a direct e-mail to the suitable 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 someone ELSE altogether.

Abigail Burman: I believe inside an hour or two, uh, obtained a telephone name from the healthcare plans lobbyists for the state, saying that, yeah, she was personally going to repair this, promising an appointment throughout 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 wherever. 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 bottom line is you simply, it’s a must to preserve transferring up and it’s a must to press on all of the levers that you would be able to.

Dan: On this case, as a result of Abigail’s good friend was on Medicaid, the state was really paying the insurance coverage firm instantly, so getting them concerned was in all probability a simpler lever than in different conditions. Nevertheless it labored!

One thing really 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 might, you understand, my boss was understanding I may very well be taking these calls on the workplace for typically hours at a time.

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

Abigail Burman: I’m a lawyer who labored in healthcare coverage earlier than legislation faculty, and I do that work professionally, and it nonetheless took me so lengthy. And that was with the added privilege of, getting taken severely due to my training, 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 expenses 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 precise ideas, and past the outrage– is an concept that we’ve began speaking a little bit extra about on this present not too long ago.

We’ve talked for a very long time about self-defense in opposition to this terrible system. However self protection solely will get us up to now — particularly once we’re really sick, or needing assist. We’re not in the very best place to have interaction in a struggle.

However we are able to struggle for one another. And also you don’t all the time should be a lawyer.

Abigail Burman: This can be a service you’ll be able to present for folks. In case you are the type of particular person or you understand, somebody who actually enjoys renegotiating their web plan, you’ll in all probability 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 folks to be the scary one that’s carrying a swimsuit.

Dan: And also you don’t all the time even want a swimsuit. We talked not too long ago with an expert advocate who stated, “Once 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 a little bit bit.”

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

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

The concept is, take what you may have — no matter data you may have, no matter expertise you may have, no matter TIME you may have, and sure no matter privilege you may have — and see for those who can put it to make use of.

Abigail Burman: You already know, that this, uh, we speak rather a lot about mutual support and networks of care and I believe it is a enormous a part of it’s simply exhibiting up for the forms aspect.

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

Abigail Burman: Looking for our associates, serving to folks in our neighborhood is just gonna get us up to now, we nonetheless want so many extra adjustments from lawmakers to make this a system that works for everybody.

Dan: And sure, in fact 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 folks in her life, serving to struggle one battle at a time.

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

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

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

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

That’s one thing I actually wish to work towards, one thing I hope this present can do: How will we develop into a neighborhood — nevertheless large, nevertheless unfastened — of parents who might help one another HELP EACH OTHER?

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

For now, for those who haven’t already, try our First Help Package publication. That’s the place we’ve been writing down quite a lot of the guidelines and methods we’ve been studying about HOW to tackle these fights.

You will discover the whole lot we’ve written to this point — greater than twenty installments up to now — at arm and a leg present dot com, slash, first support package.

I’ll catch you quickly.

Until then, deal with 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 Periods.

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 called 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 identify Kaiser in there, and no: KFF isn’t affiliated with the well being care large Kaiser Permanente. You’ll be able to 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 simply accept tax-exempt donations. 

You’ll be able to study extra about Public Narrative at www dot public narrative dot org.

And due to everyone who helps this present financially.

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


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