The Obama administration has called off plans to conduct a “mystery shopper” survey of doctors’ offices to determine whether prospective patients with government health insurance have a more difficult time getting appointments than those with private insurance. This is, as the New York Times put it, “an abrupt reversal” from an administration that just two days earlier had “staunchly defended the survey as a way to measure access to primary care, and insisted that it posed no threat to privacy.”
The New American reported on the proposal on Monday, pointing out the deceptive nature of the survey, in which callers pretending to be patients — and blocking their caller ID information to hide their true identities — would request appointments with various doctors’ offices. Some callers would claim to have private insurance, while others would say they were on Medicare or Medicaid. The results of these calls would be compared to see if patients with private insurance were being given priority over those with public insurance. In addition, some doctors’ offices would be called again and asked to state their appointment policies to the Department of Health and Human Services to see if their answers jibed with the results of the “mystery shopper” survey.