Accounting of Newly Insured Gets Murkier

April 15, 2014

Upton: “Did the health law work to insure the uninsured? A simple check of the box could answer that question. Sadly, we may never know – and the administration seems just fine with that.”

Useful and complete data regarding the president’s health care law has been scarce. For months, administration officials have dodged questions about the number of people who have completed the enrollment process and paid the first month’s premium. The administration even failed to collect basic figures regarding the number of people who are selecting health plans who were previously uninsured. In the absence of this data, The New York Times explains, “Health policy experts and politicians had been assuming that the Census Bureau would help answer those questions… .”

But it looks like getting those answers just got harder. The Times reports that the Census Bureau “is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall …” and that “The Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Council of Economic Advisers requested several of the new questions, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the new questionnaire.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) commented, “If the administration truly wants to know how many people have insurance today because of the health law, it will swiftly reverse course. Did the health law work to insure the uninsured? A simple check of a box could answer that question. Sadly, we may never know – and the administration seems just fine with that.”

 

April 15, 2014

Census Survey Revisions Mask Health Law Effects

The Census Bureau, the authoritative source of health insurance data for more than three decades, is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.

The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said.

An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a “total revision to health insurance questions” and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument. …

Health policy experts and politicians had been assuming that the Census Bureau would help answer those questions when it issued its report on income, poverty and health insurance, based on the Current Population Survey. The annual report shows the number of people with various kinds of health insurance and the number of uninsured for the nation and for each state. …

The White House is always looking for evidence to show the benefits of the health law, which is an issue in many of this year’s midterm elections. The Department of Health and Human Services and the White House Council of Economic Advisers requested several of the new questions, and the White House Office of Management and Budget approved the new questionnaire. But the decision to make fundamental changes in the survey was driven by technical experts at the Census Bureau, and members of Congress have not focused on it or suggested political motives. The new survey was conceived, in part, to reduce a kind of bias or confusion in the old survey. When asked about their insurance arrangements in the prior year, people tended to give answers about their coverage at the time of the interview — forgetting, for example, if they had Medicaid for a few months early in the prior year. …

Read the complete story online here