Obama Administration Shelves Plan for Covert Primary Care Survey
On Tuesday, the Obama administration announced it is postponing indefinitely its plans to launch a survey that would determine the extent of the nation's primary care physician shortage by using a group of "mystery shoppers," the New York Times reports (Pear, New York Times, 6/28).
The administration announced the project in the Federal Register nearly two months ago, but it did not receive much attention until the Times published on article detailing the survey on Monday (Kliff, Politico, 6/28).
Details of Plan
According to the plan, the mystery shoppers would call 4,185 PCPs across nine states, including pediatricians and obstetrician-gynecologists.
Each office would be contacted twice: the mystery shopper first would act as a privately insured patient, and the second time as a publicly insured patient.
As standard practice, the mystery shopper would request an appointment seeking urgent medical care or a routine exam.
The proposal said the shoppers would use standard protocol to ensure that key questions are answered and that necessary data is gleaned from the calls.
In addition, 11% of physicians would be contacted a third time. In the third call, the physicians would be informed of the study and asked whether they are accepting new patients and how long the wait time is to arrange an appointment. This questioning approach was intended to corroborate the information obtained by the mystery shoppers.
Reaction to Plan
The plan received criticism from physicians, who said the project equates to "Big Brother" government snooping (California Healthline, 6/27).
In addition, some lawmakers protested the study.
On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) began circulating a letter to send to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asking for more information on the study. He later called the project a "misallocation of taxpayer dollars" (Politico, 6/28). He asked why the survey is needed because "there have been a number of reputable studies that confirmed many patients on Medicaid and Medicare cannot find a doctor to see them" (New York Times, 6/28).
In an announcement on Tuesday, an HHS official said, "After reviewing feedback,â¦ we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project." The official added, "Instead, we will pursue other initiatives that build on our efforts to increase access to health care providers" (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 6/28).
Despite the political backlash against the project, HHS spokesperson Christian Stenrud said that "[p]olitics did not play a role in the decision" (New York Times, 6/28).
For additional coverage of the Obama administration's decision to postpone the study, see today's Road to Reform.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.