NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fewer Uninsured Than Previously Estimated

August 9, 2001

The Census Bureau has recalculated its estimate of the uninsured and discovered the problem is less severe than previously thought. Since the early 1980s, the Bureau has used questions in its annual March Current Population Survey (CPS) to come up with estimates of the uninsured. Its estimates have been higher than others, such as those produced by the Urban Institute in recent years.

  • However, using follow-up verification questions beginning with the March 2000 CPS, the Bureau has discovered that "about 8 percent of those previously classified as not having health insurance reported that they were in fact insured."
  • This lowers the Bureau's count of uninsured in 1999 from 42.6 million to 39.3 million -- a difference of 3.3 million people.
  • According to researchers, "private coverage appears to be the type of coverage most affected by reporting differences between the CPS and other surveys."

Additionally, in analyzing the household characteristics of those who initially reported they (or someone in their household) was uninsured -- but answered a verification question affirmatively --researchers found that they more closely resembled those who have insurance, rather than those who are uninsured. For example, the verification question lowered the estimate of uninsured among people living in households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more by 16 percent. But the additional questions uncovered that only 4 percent of those in households with incomes under $25,000 who had been classified as uninsured had in fact been insured at some point in 1999.

Numbers for 2000 will be released in September.

Source: Charles T. Nelson and Robert J. Mills, "The March CPS Health Insurance Verification Question And Its Effect On Estimates Of The Uninsured," August 2001, Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division, U.S. Bureau of the Census.


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