A shortage of primary care doctors has long concerned health policy experts, and the deficiency could grow even more severe if health insurance coverage is extended to more than 30 million Americans as expected under the new health care law.
In response to the issue, the Obama administration began recruiting individuals to become “mystery shoppers” in its new survey initiative. The plan called for individuals who would contact physicians’ offices to request medical appointments and gauge the availability of the needed health care. Besides determining primary care availability, the government hoped to find out if the type of insurance coverage carried by the patient (i.e., public v. private) poses a barrier to care access. The initial survey planned to sample over 4,000 doctors in nine states and was expected to cost $347,370.
The new plan quickly prompted protests from many doctors and lawmakers. Since the program did not intend for callers to identify themselves as government workers, many believed that the survey signified the government’s lack of trust in doctors and could pose potential privacy issues. Some also expressed concerns regarding the need for and cost of the program.
Initially, the government stoutly defended the plan. In defense of the program, the administration stated that all data would be kept confidential and was needed to better understand the shortage problem and take necessary steps to solve it. Within a matter of days, however, the administration announced that the survey has been put on hold in the wake of the criticism. The Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) announced that, “we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project.” Some speculate politics could have played a role in the decision although HHS officials deny the claim.
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