NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 28, 2007

The U.S. Census Bureau revised its 2005 data on the uninsured this week, after discovering the initial data was off by 1.8 million people.  While the error was blamed on a software glitch, experts with the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) said the mistake points to bigger issues with the census data.


  • The revised Census Bureau numbers show 44.8 million people were uninsured as of 2005 -- not 46.6 million as previously reported; yet that too likely overstates the chronically uninsured.
  • For instance, a recent Congressional Budget Office report places the actual numbers of full-year uninsured at between 21 million and 31 million.

"The way the U.S. Census Bureau reports the number of uninsured is misleading at best and essentially meaningless at worst," says Devon Herrick, senior fellow with the NCPA.

"Being uninsured is usually a transitory state, since most uninsured Americans are only without coverage for a short time.  Conversely, the Census report implies this is a chronic state."

In fact, there are many factors involved in being uninsured, says Herrick.  For example:

  • One-third of the uninsured live in households earning more than $50,000 per year.
  • 12 million people qualify for government programs, like SCHIP and Medicaid, but have not bothered to enroll.
  • An estimated 10 million are immigrants, many of whom are undocumented.

"It's good news that there are fewer uninsured Americans than previously thought," says Herrick.  "But we have to remember that data like this can be virtually meaningless. To truly effect a meaningful reduction in the number of the uninsured, we need to start with getting a better understanding of who is chronically uninsured, and why."

Source: "Fewer Americans Uninsured Than Previously Reported," Southwest Nebraska News, March 27, 2007.

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