House Bill Would Prohibit Changes to Census Health Insurance Questions

The House has introduced an appropriations bill that would prohibit the Census Bureau from revising the health insurance questions included in its annual survey next year, according to a report from The Hill.

As of Wednesday, the 2015 spending bill was being marked up (debated, amended and rewritten) in a subcommittee, according to the report. The legislation includes a provision stating that "the Bureau of the Census shall collect data for the Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey using the same health insurance questions included in previous years, prior to the revised questions implemented in the Current Population Survey beginning in February 2014."

Last month, The New York Times reported the Census Bureau planned to make significant revisions to the annual survey's health insurance questions this year. Changes to the survey this year to increase accuracy will mean a likely "break in series" for health insurance coverage estimates, meaning it will be difficult to determine if changes in the uninsured rate stem from the revised questionnaire or the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, according to the report.

According to the Census Bureau, the old survey produced an erroneously inflated estimate of the uninsured population. Previously, the census asked people if they had various kinds of health insurance coverage during the previous year. However, consumers had a tendency to instead give answers about their insurance at the time of the survey. The new questionnaire asks them about their coverage status at the time of the interview.

News of the planned revisions drew protests from conservative policymakers. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and John Thune (R-S.D.) urged the Census Bureau last month to continue asking old health insurance questions in addition to planned new questions in its annual survey for two more years.  

"Of course we always want the best statistical information, but the collection of only one year of comparable data is insufficient," the senators wrote in a letter to the Census Bureau. "Continuing to collect data using both the old and new survey questions will help ensure that you do not conflate a change in measurement with changes due to implementation of the new healthcare law."

More Articles on the PPACA:
Republicans Ask Census Bureau to Keep Old Health Insurance Questions
Census Changes Could Hinder Measurement of PPACA Impact
3 Key Findings on Individual Insurance Market Stability 


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