U.S. Plans Stealth Survey on Access to Doctors
UPDATE June 28: Victory: Obama Admin cancels stealth survey of Hawaii MDs
by Robert Pear, New York Times June 27, 2011 (excerpted)
Obama administration officials are recruiting a team of “mystery shoppers” to pose as patients, call doctors’ offices and request appointments ….
The administration says the survey will … try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates.
Federal officials predict that more than 30 million Americans will gain coverage under the health care law passed last year. “These newly insured Americans will need to seek out new primary care physicians, further exacerbating the already growing problem” of a shortage of such physicians in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services said in a description of the project prepared for the White House.
Plans for the survey have riled many doctors because the secret shoppers will not identify themselves as working for the government.
“I don’t like the idea of the government snooping,” said Dr. Raymond Scalettar, an internist in Washington. “It’s a pernicious practice — Big Brother tactics, which should be opposed.”
According to government documents obtained from Obama administration officials, the mystery shoppers will call medical practices and ask if doctors are accepting new patients and, if so, how long the wait would be. The government is eager to know whether doctors give different answers to callers depending on whether they have public insurance, like Medicaid, or private insurance, like Blue Cross and Blue Shield.
Dr. George J. Petruncio, a family doctor in Turnersville, N.J., said: “This is not a way to build trust in government. Why should I trust someone who does not correctly identify himself?”
Dr. Stephen C. Albrecht, a family doctor in Olympia, Wash., said: “If federal officials are worried about access to care, they could help us. They don’t have to spy on us.”
Dr. Robert L. Hogue, a family physician in Brownwood, Tex., asked: “Is this a good use of tax money? Probably not. Everybody with a brain knows we do not have enough doctors.” ….
In many states, Medicaid, the program for low-income people, pays so little that many doctors refuse to accept Medicaid patients. This could become a more serious problem in 2014, when the new health law will greatly expand eligibility for Medicaid….
In the mystery shopper survey, administration officials said, a federal contractor will call the offices of 4,185 doctors — 465 in each of nine states: Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. The doctors will include pediatricians and obstetrician-gynecologists.
The calls are to begin in a few months, with preliminary results from the survey expected next spring. Each office will be called at least twice — by a person who supposedly has private insurance and by someone who supposedly has public insurance….
Eleven percent of the doctors will be called a third time. The callers will identify themselves as calling “on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.” They will ask whether the doctors accept private insurance, Medicaid or Medicare, and whether they take “self-pay patients.” The study will note any discrepancies between those answers and the ones given to mystery shoppers.
(Suggestion to Doctors: Recommend a physically impossible sexual act as an experimental therapeutic technique for anybody calling “on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”)