Every now and then, a well-intentioned administration does something relatively harmless but so hare-brained and openly foolish that it takes our breath away. The Obama Administration’s primary care “secret shopper” plan fit this bill, and has already been shelved due to the withering criticism. My inbox a couple days ago was filled with rants by physicians of all political persuasions marveling at the lameness of the idea.
Here’s a short description from Robert Pear’s article in Sunday’s New York Times.
The administration says the survey will address a “critical public policy problem”: the increasing shortage of primary care doctors, including specialists in internal medicine and family practice. It will also try to discover whether doctors are accepting patients with private insurance while turning away those in government health programs that pay lower reimbursement rates.
That primary care access has been squeezed is hardly in question. Undervalue a critically important resource, make it a financially undesirable choice for young professionalsand – Voila! – capacity drops. Having too few primary care physicians is the result of 20 years of systematic effort by the specialist-dominated American Medical Association, with the seeming oblivious complicity of both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Ironically, a new study answering a question related to the Administration’s project’s question was released last week. Writing in New England Journal of Medicine, Bisgaier and Rhodes had research assistants pose as mothers trying to make pediatric specialty care appointments, with type of insurance as the only variable. Two-thirds (66%) of those who mentioned Medicaid/CHIP were denied appointments, compared with 11% of those who mentioned private insurance. In 89 clinics that accepted both kinds of patients, the waiting time for callers who said they had Medicaid was 22.1 days longer, on average, than for those who said they had private insurance.