Measuring Health Insurance Coverage

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Written By John H. Thompson

Yesterday, I participated in an event hosted by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics on federal statistics on health insurance coverage. One of the key topics we discussed at the event was methodological changes to the 2014 Current Population Survey (CPS) Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC) and the statistics from that survey, which will be released in September.

I am committed to engaging the public on the methodology and the results of our surveys, so I’m glad we had the opportunity to co-host yesterday’s discussion and answer questions on our health insurance coverage statistics. If you weren’t able to attend the event in person or via live streaming, let me update you on what we discussed.

At the Census Bureau, we are constantly working to ensure our data are relevant, and accurately measure major changes in society. With this in mind, we designed the recent changes to the CPS to better measure health insurance coverage. The changes will provide a good baseline for coverage before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect, so that we can assess the impact of the law after it is in effect. Research shows that some CPS respondents who had health insurance coverage did not report it during the survey interview. This resulted in higher estimates of uninsured than from other sources. I believe the new questions will improve our measurement of health insurance coverage.

We administer the CPS every year in the early spring, and ask respondents about the prior calendar year. The new questions provide more accurate, precise, and detailed measurement by asking the questions in a manner that is easier for the respondents to answer. We begin by asking respondents about their current coverage, and whether it started before or after January of the prior year. Follow-up questions determine if the coverage was continuous; if not, whether there was any other kind of coverage during the gaps; and whether there was any additional coverage during that time. The CPS now includes additional questions to provide information on health insurance exchanges and marketplaces.

By instituting these changes now, the Census Bureau will have one year of data (2013) as a baseline. Next year, we can compare this baseline with the data about coverage in 2014, the first year of implementation of the ACA, to see what effects the Act has had.

The Census Bureau implements changes in questions to improve accuracy, and we base all changes on research, testing, and peer review. The Census Bureau implemented these changes based on more than a decade of research, which indicated that respondents often had difficulty recalling whether they had health insurance coverage and the type of coverage for a calendar-year period.

There is rarely an ideal time to make changes in the CPS, because they usually result in difficulties with year-to-year comparisons. We timed these changes to provide an accurate baseline of coverage before the effective date of key provisions of ACA. If we had waited another year – collecting this data for the first time in 2014 – the data would not show the effect of the ACA. Next year, once we have collected the CPS data about 2014, we will be able to provide estimates of year-to-year change in coverage using a consistent methodology.

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Learn More about Federal Statistics on Health Insurance Coverage

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By John Thompson

On Monday, August 18 at 10 a.m. EDT, please tune in to the Census Bureau’s Ustream channel to learn more about how we collect information on health insurance coverage. I will be participating in an event hosted by the Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) on federal statistics on health insurance, and I encourage you to watch it live.

My Census Bureau colleagues Jennifer Cheeseman Day and Victoria Velkoff will speak about methodological changes to the 2014 Current Population Survey and the statistics from that survey which will be released publicly in September. They will be joined by NCHS Director Charles Rothwell and two experts from NCHS, Jennifer Madans and Stephen Blumberg. In addition, Gary Claxton of the Kaiser Family Foundation and Michael O’Grady of O’Grady Health Policy, LLC, will discuss how these changes will improve health insurance coverage statistics.

August 18, 10 a.m. – noon EDT
Ask questions by dialing in: 800-857-4620, participant passcode: CENCHS
(Note: Stay on the line until operator asks for the passcode. Do not key in passcode.)

More information

Stay tuned to my blog for an update following Monday’s event.

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Introducing Census PoP Quiz, the Census Bureau’s Latest Mobile App

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I’m pleased to announce that the Census Bureau’s newest app is now available. Census PoP Quiz is an interactive mobile application powered by the American Community Survey (ACS), which provides information on over 40 topics for every neighborhood in the U.S., from education to commuting.

I recently recorded a video interview explaining what Census PoP Quiz is, why it’s a great learning tool, and how it differs from our other mobile apps. Census PoP Quiz is available for free on Android and iOS. I encourage you to download it today and test your knowledge of the states!

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Census Advisory Committees Add Value

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Written by: John H. Thompson

Twice a year, during the spring and fall, something special happens at Census Headquarters. This is when Census Advisory Committees meet in Suitland, Maryland to discuss issues and provide real-world perspectives on how our work impacts some of our most critical needs.

I believe that the Census Bureau’s core mission of providing the highest-quality statistics about our nation’s people, places, and economy must involve public input and include a wide variety of perspectives. America’s diversity and constantly-changing landscape makes these advisory committees more important than ever to the Census Bureau.

For over 50 years, the Census Bureau has sought counsel from a wide variety of people. Their perspectives shape how we conduct our business. Census Advisory Committees provide real-time advice about 2020 Census priorities and innovations, including the use of administrative records, Internet response options, American Community Survey content, and race and ethnicity.

I greatly value the expertise from our partners on the Census Scientific Advisory Committee and the National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic, and Other Populations (NAC). Their members volunteer significant time to helping the Census Bureau find cost-effective solutions to our challenges. Their assessments shape how we interact with the American public, from survey design to implementation and help us provide quality data on hard-to-count populations. We make better decisions because of them.

The Census Bureau tells America’s story through statistics. Between now and July 17, the Census Bureau is requesting nominations for people to serve on the NAC. If you or someone you know would be a good addition to our advisory committee, please see our Federal Register notice for more information on how to apply. We look forward to hearing from you.


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Celebrating 224 Years of Measuring America’s People, Places, and Economy

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Written by: John H. Thompson

During my swearing-in ceremony at the National Archives, I was able to see some of the “charters of freedom” housed there – the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. On the eve of celebrating our national independence, I reflect on what struck me most, particularly Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States… according to their respective Numbers… The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years in such Manner as they shall by Law direct…”

The framers emphasized the importance of collecting timely statistics for our nation by the prominence of this first mention of what became the Census Bureau near the top of the document. The need for a census became clear soon after the 13 colonies broke ties with Great Britain. The Revolutionary War was expensive, and a census provided a way to allocate the debt among the states. The Founding Fathers also wanted to establish a representative government, linking a state’s population to the number of its members in the House of Representatives. Thus, the framers of our Constitution enshrined the census as a vital tool that we use to measure America’s people, places and economy.

Since 1790, the U.S. Census has been more than a simple head count; it has recorded the growth and composition of our nation. Today, the 10-year census, the economic census, and the American Community Survey provide statistics that let us know how our country is doing. We give Congress and community leaders the tools they need to do everything from planning schools and building roads, to providing recreational opportunities and health care services – decisions that shape our democracy.

It’s an honor to serve as the Director of the Census Bureau, and I’m grateful to the agency’s employees for their hard work. America’s future will be data-driven, and my colleagues have always led the way in tracking emerging trends and embracing new technologies – from Herman Hollerith’s development of an automatic tabulation system for the 1890 Census, to our acquisition of the first civilian computer in 1950, to our plans to conduct the 2020 Census largely over the internet.

I invite you to learn more about the Census Bureau’s innovative history and role in shaping America’s development by visiting or


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