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What to Know About Next Week’s Health Coverage Data

The Census Bureau will release estimates Tuesday of the number and share of Americans without health coverage in 2013, based on its annual Current Population Survey (CPS).  While the CPS is the most widely used source of health coverage information, significant changes in its health coverage questions instituted for 2013 — the result of a multi-year Census initiative to improve the reliability and accuracy of the survey’s health coverage estimates — mean that the 2013 results cannot be compared to those for prior years, as we explain in a new report.  Moreover, because the CPS estimates are for 2013, they will not show the effects of health reform’s major coverage expansions, implemented starting in January 2014.

Analysts and policymakers should therefore look to other available data sources as well, including other federal and private surveys.  For example, the Census Bureau also will issue Tuesday the health coverage results from its American Community Survey (ACS).  Unlike the CPS, the ACS health insurance data for 2013 will be a part of a consistent data series back to 2008 and hence will allow analysis of changes in health coverage over recent years.

Preliminary results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Health Interview Survey provide important clues about the upcoming Census estimate (under the ACS) of the change in health coverage in 2013.  The CDC data show that the share of Americans without health coverage remained stable between 2012 and 2013, as did rates of private coverage, Medicaid coverage, and coverage for particular groups of Americans.  These data show the uninsured rate rose from 14.5 percent in 2007 to 16.0 percent in 2010, then fell to 14.7 percent by 2012, and remained essentially unchanged (in statistical terms) at 14.4 percent in 2013.

Click here to read the full report.