HHS cancels 'mystery shopper' proposal

The Obama administration late Tuesday announced that it was abandoning a proposal to have "mystery shoppers" try to make doctor's appointments after Republicans and some doctors called it "spying."

The proposal was aimed at studying Medicare and Medicaid patients' access to primary care. The proposal has gotten a deluge of criticism since the New York Times reported on it Sunday.

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"On April 28th, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services submitted a notice to the Federal Register regarding a proposed study that would examine access to primary care. 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," an HHS official said in a statement. "Instead, we will pursue other initiatives that build on our efforts to increase access to health care providers nationwide."

The proposal's dismissal comes after Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) called on his colleagues to sign onto a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urging her to nix the idea.

"I'm asking my colleagues to join in a letter to Secretary Sebelius sharing concern with the legality, standards and repercussions of this program," Kirk said on the Senate floor. "The cost in a proposed clandestine method of collecting information on physician offices is questionable, and therefore, I'm going to be requesting details on how this survey will be conducted, how investigators will be punished for any misconduct or extortion that they may carry out in their duties, and how patient and physician confidentiality will be maintained."