Census Bureau Uninsured Total Still Overstates

Experts Available to Discuss the True Nature of the Uninsured, Offer Solutions

DALLAS (Sept. 28, 2001) - The U.S. Census Bureau today is expected to announce a reduction in the number of uninsured due mainly to a change in the way it measures uninsurance. Yet according to the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), the Census Bureau has been over-counting the uninsured for years and the new adjustment is far short of what is needed.

  • According to City University of New York adjunct professor David O'Neil, the actual number of uninsured, as defined by the Census Bureau, has been as little as one-half the number annually reported.
  • With the addition of follow-up verification questions, the Census Bureau has corrected some, but not all, of the flaws that lead to an over-count.
  • Further, a far more accurate count is contained in another Census Bureau report.

"The Census Bureau doesn't have to go far to find better numbers," said O'Neil. "They're right down the hall."

The Census Bureau publishes two relevant reports on health insurance: the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The main problem with the CPS, is that people are asked to recall whether they had coverage in the previous year, and many either forget or misinterpret the question, leading to many false positives for uninsurance. In addition, many who report to the CPS that they are uninsured, are eligible for Medicaid and are typically enrolled if they get sick. The SIPP survey is conducted more frequently and is judged to be more accurate.

Like unemployment, many of the uninsured are only without insurance for a short period. 60 percent of the uninsured are only uninsured for 9 months or less, and 45 percent attain insurance in 4 months or less.

O'Neil has shown that over 25 percent of the uninsured are uninsured by choice, having the resources to insure, but choosing to spend those resources on other items.

Under current law, most individuals receive their health insurance as a benefit of employment, because current tax law excludes employer payments for health insurance from the employee's taxable income. By contrast, individuals who choose to purchase health insurance on their own must do so with after tax dollars - forcing some people to earn twice as much before taxes in order to purchase the same insurance. The answer?

  • According to a new National Bureau of Economic Research study, a tax credit of $1,000 would induce 85 percent of the uninsured to purchase insurance.
  • President Bush proposed a refundable tax credit during his presidential campaign last year.

"People who purchase their own insurance should receive just as much help from the government as people who obtain insurance through an employer," said John Goodman, president of the NCPA.