Spying on doctors to find answers we already know

Anyone who has seriously studied Medicaid understands there is a huge difference between possessing health insurance and having access to health care.

Until the very last minute, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services seemed determined to spend $350,000 to spy on doctors and rediscover this well-known fact. Although the department finally dropped that plan, doctors should expect to experience similar government intrusions in the future.

The HHS mystery shopper program would have called 4,185 primary care physicians in nine states, twice each. On one call, they were to request an appointment while posing as a privately insured patient. On the other call, they were to pose as a patient with government insurance. Just this month, a similar study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that two-thirds of Medicaid patients were denied appointments, compared with just 11 percent of those with private insurance. The government’s study would have merely duplicated the results of this and other private studies.

The American Medical Association voiced displeasure with the waste of time and money.

“The government should be working to address the [doctor] shortage so all patients can have access to the health care they need, rather than using mystery shoppers to tell us what we already know,” AMA spokesman Dr. Cecil Wilson said.

We agree, but what did Wilson, and the rest of the AMA, think was going to happen when they threw their organization’s prestige behind Obamacare? By helping expand government control of the medical system to unprecedented levels, they have virtually guaranteed that bureaucrats will be looking over their shoulders regularly from now on.

More than half of all new health insurance coverage obtained by Americans under Obamacare will be through Medicaid. Obamacare’s authors specifically chose Medicaid as the vehicle for most of the coverage expansion because it is “cheaper” than Medicare and private insurance. But Medicaid isn’t cheaper because government is somehow better than the private sector at controlling health care costs. Rather, it’s cheaper because it pays doctors less for the same services.

That is why Medicaid patients are turned down by doctors — government price controls decrease the supply of doctor labor. When a government’s price control regime fails, the next step is to find other means of coercion in order to keep economic actors in line.

Enter the HHS and its mystery shoppers. It’s too bad the AMA didn’t see this coming two years ago.

editorialshealth careMedicaidOpinion

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