Census Health Change Sparks Mini-Freakout Over Obamacare

The U.S. Census Bureau’s decision to change its annual survey — reported Tuesday by the New York Times — drew the ire of Republicans and some nonpartisan health policy scholars, who complained that it would make it harder to measure Obamacare’s effects on the uninsured rate.

The fear was that the metric would change between 2013 and 2014, making it very difficult to discern the health care law’s impact on insurance coverage. That would’ve been problematic. But the Census revisions, set for this fall, will measure data from 2013 onward. That means researchers will have a direct comparison from 2013 to 2014, the most critical period during which Obamacare’s main coverage expansion took effect.

“We will still have an apples to apples comparison of 2013 vs. 2014 in the current [census],” Larry Levitt, vice president of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said in an email. He said the new Census questions are a more accurate indicator of insurance coverage.

According to the Times, internal tests involving the new survey suggested that the old survey was inflating the number of uninsured people in America.

The prospect of an artificial drop in the uninsured rate under Obama and the implication of a “break” in the data set off Republicans, who are raising hell about the law ahead of the 2014 elections. The criticism was expressed in tweets from Rory Cooper, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA), and Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), among others.

Amanda Carpenter, a speechwriter and senior communications adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), also chimed in.

What the Census change means is that there won’t be a definitive comparison of how insurance rates were affected from 2012 to 2013. The metric will effectively reset starting with 2013 figures.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sahil Kapur is TPM's senior congressional reporter and Supreme Court correspondent. His articles have been published in the Huffington Post, The Guardian and The New Republic. Email him at sahil@talkingpointsmemo.com and follow him on Twitter at @sahilkapur.
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