'Mystery shoppers' to help administration assess primary care physicians

The administration is planning to conduct a secret nationwide survey of primary care doctors in order to assess the availability of those doctors to patients as well as whether they are more inclined to accept patients with private insurance, which has higher reimbursement rates, The New York Times reports.

According to documents obtained by the Times, the administration will employ "mystery shoppers" to call medical practices -- 465 each in Florida, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia -- to try to schedule an appointment. Each office will receive two calls: one from a mystery shopper who claims to have private insurance, and one who has public insurance. Eleven percent will receive a third call, ostensibly from the Health and Human Services Department. Federal officials estimate the initial costs at $347,370.

The survey is designed to help assess the availability of primary care physicians, which are already in short supply. The problem is expected to worsen as 30 million Americans gain insurance coverage as a result of the health care law. They say the survey data will be used in aggregate form, and not used to pinpoint certain medical practices.

But doctors still feel like they're being spied on. George J. Petruncio, a family doctor in Turnersville, N.J., told the Times, "This is not a way to build trust in government. Why should I trust someone who does not correctly identify himself?"

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