Update to a story we covered here at HUMAN EVENTS earlier this week: the Obama Administration has decided to cancel the “doctor snooping” program, in which a team of “mystery shoppers” would pose as patients and try to make appointments at various doctors’ offices, to measure the difficulty of obtaining health care, and determine whether the physicians were accepting private insurance but turning away patients in less-lucrative government health care programs.
This was somehow supposed to address the shortage of primary care physicians that we weren’t supposed to have as a result of ObamaCare. Normally, when a profession that requires over a decade of training at fabulous expense learns that a team of government agents will be working undercover to spy on them, the result is fewer people choosing to enter that occupation.
The Doctor Snoops would have given the Administration plenty of easily-massaged data to attack physicians for failing to cooperate with its health-care agenda, and convince the public that either they’ve got plenty of doctors available and those long ObamaCare wait times are all in their heads, or that a dire shortage of physicians compelled the creation of a huge and lavishly-funded new Department of Doctor Recruiting – whichever was more politically convenient at the time.
After the New York Times ran an expose on this program, a number of influential Republicans weighed in against it. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) told Investor’s Business Daily, “This out-of-control bureaucracy apparently isn’t satisfied with just writing hundreds of new regulations needed to enforce ObamaCare. They’ve taken to wasting taxpayer dollars harassing doctor’s offices and impeding productivity. One can only assume this Big Brother tactic is part of a larger plan to force doctors to accept government insurance, whether they like it or not.”
The IBD editors added that the Doctor Snoop program was “a Stasi-like move to identify “hoarders” of medical services, much as East Germany domestic spies known as Stasi did to producers and service providers under communism.” Ouch! That’s going to leave a mark, Health and Human Services! You might want to see a doctor and get something for the pain. I hear the wait times aren’t too bad. Not yet, anyway.
“It also amounts to a de facto effort to intimidate doctors into accepting Medicare and Medicaid patients at artificially low rates so as not to attract government scrutiny,” added the editors. “The snoops, after all, will know which doctors aren’t seeing Medicare patients, and the HHS claim that nobody is being targeted is only true until it isn’t.”
In the face of mounting criticism, HHS decided to terminate the program. “After reviewing feedback received during the public comment period, we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project,” the Department said in a statement. “Instead, we will pursue other initiatives that build on our efforts to increase access to health care providers nationwide.” I can hardly wait to find out what those “other initiatives” will be!
Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL), who had begun asking HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius some pointed questions about the Doctor Snoop program, applauded its demise. “HHS made the right decision to dump the ‘secret surveys’ to spy on physician offices,” he told the Politico. “I spoke against this misallocation of taxpayer dollars today on the Senate floor because the survey is duplicative of what we already know and funding should be spent solving problems, not studying them.”
It’s interesting how much time the most opaque Administration in history – marked by backroom deals, ignored subpoenas and stymied Freedom of Information Act requests – spends spying on everyone else, and how much money the most bankrupt Administration in history wants to spend on doing it. At least when they set up their disturbing “firstname.lastname@example.org” email account to gather information about citizens who were “spreading misinformation about health care,” it relied upon volunteer labor, and was therefore reasonably cost-effective.
A word of advice to the Obama Administration: when you dream up your next regulatory nightmare, try gathering a small group of ordinary Americans, read them a description of the program, and ask them point-blank: “Does this sound creepy to you?” If the answer is “yes,” scuttle the program. It will save us all a lot of trouble.
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