WASHINGTON — Imagine calling dozens of doctors listed through your healthcare provider directory, but not getting any office willing to take you as a patient.
That’s what lawmakers say is happening to Americans in need of mental healthcare services.
Tackling these so-called ghost networks was the focus of a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill Wednesday.
“What a ghost network is all about is essentially selling health coverage under false pretenses because the providers who have been advertised aren’t picking up the phone. They aren’t taking patients,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-OR.
“Patients need accurate and up-to-date information on their healthcare options,” said Sen. Mike Crapo, R-ID.
Keris Myrick shared her story with the Senate committee about the barriers she faced because of ghost networks.
Myrick said she faced rejection after rejection when trying to find a psychiatrist.
“The all too familiar responses,” said Myrick. “There’s no provider here. No one by that name. Oh, they’re retired, or they aren’t taking new patients.”
Myrick said once she finally did get a doctor on the line, she was disappointed yet again.
“A pause. A long silence, and then the response, ‘Oh I don’t take patients with schizophrenia,’” said Myrick. “I asked if they have any suggestions or referrals to find a doctor who does, and the answer is, ‘Check the provider directory.’”
She was sent back to the provider directory that gave inaccurate information in the first place.
Myrick said she ended up having to pay large out-of-pocket costs for years to ensure she was able to get the mental health treatment she needed by using a doctor out-of-network across the country.
Mental health advocates called on Congress to hold healthcare providers accountable if they are using ghost networks.
Myrick called for lawmakers to create a federal system for patients to report ghost networks, such as through an online system or a dedicated phone number.
“They are particularly damaging for those of us living with mental health conditions like me as they can result in delayed or inadequate treatment or even going without,” said Myrick.
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