Why That New Census Report Won’t Tell Us Anything About Obamacare

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At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Census Bureau will release new data on health insurance in America. But as a measure of the new reality established by the Affordable Care Act, which remade the health insurance system in the United States, the numbers will be essentially meaningless.

But they will come in handy later.

The problem with the new numbers, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt, is that they cut off at March 31. That means 3 million people-plus who signed up in the law’s final weeks of enrollment will still count as uninsured, even though they have since been covered.

They account for more than one-third of Obamacare enrollees (and then you have any Medicaid expansion beneficiaries who have also enrolled since March). That is a significant chunk of the law’s impact being missed by Tuesday’s report.

“I think it’s fair to say tomorrow’s release will be essentially meaningless in judging the effects of the Affordable Care Act,” Levitt told TPM in an email.

But the numbers aren’t totally useless, Levitt said. The Census Bureau, with some controversy, revamped its methodology for analyzing insurance coverage for 2013. Those numbers will also come out on Tuesday, and they should serve as a new baseline for evaluating Obamacare’s impact in 2014.

But we won’t have a full picture of the law’s 2014 performance until December when the next report, which will cover through June and therefore all of the law’s private coverage enrollment, is released.

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