The Obama administration has decided to pull the plug on the so-called mystery shoppers who were going to covertly phone doctors across the country in an effort to gauge shortages in primary care physicians that critics say are linked to the president's health care law.
The proposed study was still in the planning stages, but was intended to address what the administration called a "critical public policy problem." First revealed to the public Monday by the New York Times, the mystery shoppers were to call medical practices posing as a patient, then ask about accepted insurance providers and wait times to see a doctor.
As the news came out, the White House was attacked by doctors and critics as being "creepy" and wreaking of Big Brother tactics.
"After reviewing feedback received during the public comment period," a Health and Human Services official told Fox News, "we have determined that now is not the time to move forward with this research project. Instead, we will pursue other initiatives that build on our efforts to increase access to health care providers nationwide."
The program would have cost about $350,000 by hiring outside contractors to make 465 calls to nine different states. At least two phone calls would have been made - one where the fake patient had private insurance and one call where he or she had public insurance. A small percentage would have then been called a third time when it would be revealed the call was on behalf of the government.
The administration said it would have used the data to assess why there's a shortage in primary care physicians, and Tuesday, the same HHS official reminded the country of ways the president has worked to retain primary care doctors - including Obama's signature legislation.
"[T]he American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the Affordable Care Act and ongoing federal investments in the health care workforce have led to significant progress in training more new primary care providers - including physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants," the spokesman said.
Fox News White House correspondent Mike Emanuel and producer Kimberly Schwandt contributed to this report.