Figuring out who has health insurance coverage and who doesn’t is an ongoing challenge for policymakers.
Do you count people who went without coverage for a week or a month as being uninsured? What about the ranks of the long-term uninsured? How many of them might qualify for government programs or subsidies but just haven’t signed up?
It’s not an easy task, which is why today’s story on the numbers of uninsured might shed some light on the issue. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, a wide-ranging sample of 3 million households each year, asked a health insurance coverage question for the first time last year. For a look at how the question was asked, check out page 8 of the survey form.
Our analysis of the Census’ ACS estimates showed that about 22 percent of Oklahomans under 65 went without health insurance coverage when they were surveyed last year. That put Oklahoma at No. 5 in the nation for the percentage of residents younger than 65 without health insurance.
Of course, it didn’t help matters that the Census just two weeks ago put out another survey that had information on the uninsured from its long-running Current Population Survey. That survey showed an estimated 15.9 percent of Oklahomans of all ages were without health insurance in the CPS’ 2-year average from 2007 to 2008. (For more discussion of that survey data, see the Oklahoma Policy Institute posting here, and the thoughts from our editorial page here. The journal Health Affairs also has a more detailed discussion of the CPS health insurance estimates here.)
David Blatt, policy director for the Oklahoma Policy Institute, said that no matter which Census survey policymakers use, “I think the true numbers lie somewhere between those estimates. Whatever the number, we have a heck of a lot of Oklahomans without health insurance coverage.”
Researchers are hopeful that the bigger survey sample of the American Community Survey will provide more accurate figures in the future. Here’s how the University of Minnesota’s State Health Access Data Assistance Center, or SHADAC, puts it:
The ACS is a great development for health services researchers, but as with all surveys, it will have its problems. In summary, the greatest advantage is that the ACS will be a regular source of health insurance coverage for local areas. The timely releases will fill a significant information void. The biggest limitation is format of the health insurance item is and the ability of respondents to recognize what type of health insurance coverage they have. Some error is always expected in survey research, and we have yet to see how it will compare to other surveys.
In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the latest uninsured estimates from the Census’ American Community Survey for the Oklahoma counties and Congressional districts covered under the latest 2008 survey data:
Finally, NPR has a nice set of interactive maps using the same data:
Written by Paul Monies