Columbus Dispatch Stokes Fears Of Obamacare Data Manipulation

The Columbus Dispatch incorrectly claimed that an effort by the Census Bureau to achieve a more accurate health care picture will eliminate the ability to gauge whether the law has achieved the goal of insuring the previously uninsured.

The April 28 editorial criticized a decision by the Census Bureau to alter the way it measures who has insurance coverage in an effort to achieve clearer results, claiming instead that the change “will make it impossible to get an apples-to-apples picture of how many Americans reported having health-insurance coverage before and after the law.”

On April 15, the Census Bureau announced it would change the way it determines who had or did not have insurance coverage in the Current Population Survey (CPS) in an effort to obtain more accurate results. This process began under the Bush administration and, according to the Census Bureau, is “the culmination of 14 years of research.” A statement released by the Bureau explained the reasoning behind the change:

The recent changes to the Current Population Survey's questions related to health insurance coverage is the culmination of 14 years of research and two national tests in 2010 and 2013 clearly showing the revised questions provide more precise measures of health insurance through improved respondent recall.

This change was announced in September 2013 and implemented because the evidence showed that reengineering the questions provides demonstrably more accurate results. The Census Bureau only implements changes in survey methodology based on research, testing, and evidence presented for peer review.

Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation, reinforced this when he told The New Republic that the Current Population Survey (Census) was never really an accurate way to measure the uninsured. That's because the question asked by the Census measured the insured as a point in time, “but it's of course always been ambiguous what point in time.”  

But regardless of the Bureau's changes, the Dispatch's assertion that it will be impossible to measure the law's effectiveness is unfounded as the survey will still allow for pre-ACA and post-ACA analysis. That's because, as Sarah Kliff of pointed out, “making the change now means that 2013 and 2014 -- the year before and after Obamacare's big programs started -- are using the same question set.”

In addition, the Census is not the only way to measure the insured. As The New Republic explained, there are two other surveys that look at rates of the uninsured -- the National Health Interview Survey and the American Community Survey. The latter interviews 3 million households over the course of the year, which gives it the largest sample size of the three.

This criticism is the latest in a misleading series of attacks on the ACA by the Dispatch