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CHI Analyzes Latest Uninsured Estimates

September brings the analysts at the Colorado Health Institute many joys – beautiful weather, the changing of aspen leaves and new estimates of the uninsured.

This week, the U.S. Census Bureau released two estimates of the 2013 uninsured rate: the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey. These two surveys asked respondents about their health insurance coverage in 2013, which means that the estimates will serve as an important baseline for counting the uninsured before the sweeping changes of the Affordable Care Act took place in January 2014.

What did the surveys find?

American Community Survey estimates put the 2013 uninsured rate in Colorado at 14.1 percent, or about 729,000 Coloradans. This aligns closely with the findings from the Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS), which estimated 14.3 percent, or about 741,000 Coloradans, were not insured in 2013. In comparison, the Current Population Survey estimate is 12.6 percent, or about 667,000 Coloradans.

The estimates, and the way in which they are collected, are different in a number of ways.

With a Colorado sample size of around 50,000, the American Community Survey’s estimates are able to analyze sub-populations within the state like large counties and cities. The Current Population Survey asks questions of a much smaller number of Coloradans, about 4,500.

Though smaller, an advantage of the Current Population Survey is that the health insurance question has been asked since 1980 and provides more than 30 years of trendability. Methodology has changed during this time and for this year’s survey in particular, the changes are so significant that the 2013 data are not directly comparable to past years.

Amid concerns that the CPS estimates have not aligned with other national surveys in the past, the Census Bureau has worked to fine-tune the way in which the health insurance question is asked. The CPS was conducted in the first quarter of 2014, but it asked about coverage in the last calendar year. Because respondents may confuse the question and answer about their current health insurance coverage, the new methodology asks about current coverage and works backward to discuss coverage in the prior calendar year.

The goal is that with this new methodology, 2013 estimates will serve as the best baseline for measuring the impact of the ACA going forward.

CHI released three new briefs today to keep you updated on these new uninsured estimates. The Current Population Survey and American Community Survey briefs provide detailed Colorado estimates for coverage types and sub-state geographies. A third brief, Counting Colorado’s Uninsured: A Guide to Three Recent Estimates, compares the ACS and CPS estimates with results from the Colorado Health Access Survey.