Yesterday we posted a description and analysis of the Obama Administration’s program to have contractors posing as patients call medical offices in order to determine whether doctors were discriminating against the poor and elderly in their scheduling practices. Well today the New York Times is reporting that the initiative has been placed in “indefinite hold”. This means that HHS will not say whether or when they really will carry out the program. After all, if they meant that the program was actually cancelled, they would have said “cancelled” . Instead the HHS spokesman merely said “We have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project.”
Well why not? If it was a good idea yesterday, why isn’t it a good idea today? Was the original announcement just a trial balloon to see whether or not anyone would complain about the sneaky and invasive nature of the inquiry? The only reason given in the article was a non-reason:
“Plans for the federal survey were devised by the office of the assistant health secretary for planning and evaluation, Sherry A. Glied, and the government retained a big survey research company to help conduct it. Ms. Glied declined Tuesday to respond to questions about cancellation of the survey…
Administration officials evidently concluded that the survey could be a political liability. But Christian J. Stenrud, a Health and Human Services spokesman, said, ‘Politics did not play a role in the decision’ Tuesday.”
The basic goal of the program – to acquire a virtual club that would be used to cudgel your doctor for behaving rationally – hasn’t gone anywhere. The speech that we described in our last post in which physicians are vilified for discriminating against the poor and elderly is still ready to go. It’s just waiting in the wings for a suitable triggering event.
The trusty reporters from the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal could prove it if they wanted by asking one simple question:
“Mr. President/HHS representative, do you believe that doctors are discriminating against the poor and elderly in their scheduling practices?”
To which the reply would be made:
“We simply don’t have the data to know whether this is the case. We certainly hope not. Since you’re brought it up, it’s something we should investigate.”
And the next thing you know, the secret caller program will be back in the saddle.