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Keywords:

  • Health insurance coverage;
  • uninsured rates;
  • estimates and measurement of health insurance coverage

Objective. Examination of the extent to which federal surveys provide the data needed to estimate the coverage/cost impacts of policy alternatives to address the problem of uninsurance.

Data Sources/Study Setting. Assessment of the major federal household surveys that regularly provide information on health insurance and access to care based on an examination of each survey instrument and related survey documentation and the methodological literature.

Study Design. Identification of the data needed to address key policy questions on insurance coverage, assessment of how well existing surveys meet this need, definition of the critical elements of an ideal survey, and examination of the potential for building on existing surveys.

Data Collection/Extraction Methods. Collection and critical assessment of pertinent survey documentation and methodological studies.

Principal Findings. While all the federal surveys examined provide valuable information, the information available to guide key policy decisions still has major gaps. Issues include measurement of insurance coverage and critical content gaps, inadequate sample sizes to support precise state and substate estimates, considerable delays between data collection and availability, and concerns about response rates and item nonresponse. Our assessment is that the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the National Health Interview Survey could be most readily modified to address these issues.

Conclusions. The vast resources devoted to health care and the magnitude of the uninsurance problem make it critical that we have a reliable source for tracking health care and coverage at the national and state levels and for major local areas. It is plausible that this could be more cost effectively done by building on existing surveys than by designing and fielding a new one, but further research is needed to make a definitive judgment. At a minimum, the health insurance information collected on the CPS should be revised to address existing measurement problems.