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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Making Sense of Recent Estimates of Colorado’s Uninsured

How many Coloradans are uninsured? This is an important question for Colorado policymakers and health leaders as they work to expand health insurance coverage and access to health care. Research shows that having health insurance can make a difference in whether people get the medical care they need, and ultimately how healthy they are.

(For more information on the impact of being uninsured, check out this brief from the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

While we do not know the exact number of Coloradans who are uninsured, three important surveys recently have reported updated estimates. It is often a challenge, however, to decide which survey provides the best estimate.

In September, the U.S. Census Bureau released estimates of the uninsured from the Current Population Survey (CPS) and the American Community Survey (ACS).

  • The CPS shows that the rate of uninsurance increased in Colorado in 2011 (from 12.9% in 2010 to 15.7% in 2011).
  • Like the CPS, the Colorado Health Access Survey (CHAS) shows that the rate of uninsurance in Colorado increased from 13.5 percent in 2008-2009 to 15.8 percent in 2011.
  • The ACS, on the other hand, shows that Colorado was one of 20 states that saw a slight decrease in the rate of uninsurance (from 15.7% in 2010 to 15.1% in 2011).

You may be wondering why three surveys produced three different findings.

Survey data are based on a representative sample of the population because it is too cumbersome to interview everyone. With a larger sample size, the chances are better that the estimate will  accurately reflect the population as a whole.

The differences between these three surveys may be due to several factors, but sample size is an important factor. The CPS, which samples 4,500 Coloradans, is a national survey that focuses on employment statistics but also looks at health insurance. The CHAS, which samples 10,000 Colorado households, is a biannual survey designed to understand health insurance coverage, access to health care and  utilization of health care. The ACS, which samples 50,000 Coloradans,  is an annual national survey designed to better understand housing, jobs, health, insurance, disability and cost of living.

The bottom line is that each survey found that between 15 and 16 percent of Coloradans (or more than 750,000 individuals) reported lacking health insurance in 2011.

CHI has put together a fact sheet that provides an overview of these recent estimates, how they compare to past years and which estimate may be most appropriate for your particular needs. Deciding which estimate to use is often best decided by the survey methodology and sample size. 

For more information about the most recent estimates of Colorado’s uninsured, check out CHI’s fact sheet: “Counting Colorado’s Uninsured: A Guide to Three Recent Estimates.”