By Washington, D.C.
America is confronting a mental health crisis, and Congress is looking into the problem of so-called “ghost networks” — outdated, inaccurate or otherwise unhelpful lists of mental health providers. And some are actually out-of-network.
Some say that the nation’s growing mental health crisis is worsened when people are unable to get help from psychiatrists and other mental health professionals listed as providers by their insurance plans.
Around a decade ago, Keris Myrick was celebrating a new job, but she hit a roadblock when she switched health care plans and began calling to try to find a new psychiatrist. Myrick is the vice president of partnerships at Inseparable, a non-profit focused on advocating mental health policy.
“Who, whom, she doesn’t work here, no I don’t know where they are…hold please,” Myrick said, repeating the responses she faced when trying to reach a mental health care provider.
It was a continuous loop, something that was not only time-consuming but also dangerous. Myrick has schizophrenia.
“It was ridiculous. I mean, it gets to a point of utter frustration…at the end, it was kind of like I give up, I give up,” Myrick said. “Yeah, it’s like a dating app. You’re dating and getting rejected a lot.”
Myrick experienced a phenomenon known as “ghost networks,” and Wednesday, it was the focus of a Senate hearing.
Ghost networks are directories of mental health professionals that are not updated or accessible, making them inaccurate and not helpful for those seeking help.
“These Americans are being ripped off,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., during the hearing Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Democrats on the Senate Health Committee announced the results of a secret shopper study showing that 80% of mental health professionals were “either unreachable, not accepting new patients, or not in-network.”
Additionally, staff members who attempted to contact a mental health care provider from a health coverage provider directory could only make appointments 18% of the time.
Republican Sen. Thom Tillis, of North Carolina, underscored the ramifications of ghost networks.
“We need to understand this has real-life consequences…you’ve got financial struggles,” he said during the hearing.
There is Democratic legislation in Congress to increase accountability and oversight of mental and behavioral health care under Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance plans.
Republicans haven’t signed on yet, but some did express concerns about ghost networks Wednesday.
Myrick says health directories must be accurate and have timely information.
“Audited to make sure they are up to date. The insurance companies should do their own audit, but how can the federal government also have an independent audit?” said Myrick.
Without an accurate health directory, Myrick says the results can be devastating.
“I’ve had involvement with the criminal justice system, I’ve been unhoused, I’ve been unemployed, and I’ve been involuntarily hospitalized,” Myrick told Spectrum News.
Despite her experience working in the mental health field, Myrick is still in the same predicament she was in a decade ago—unable to locate a psychiatrist.
“I was back to the old provider directory, back to the rigamarole, so I don’t have a psychiatrist now,” said Myrick.