Census survey changes may hide reform law effects

The Census Bureau plans to change its annual survey so drastically that it may be difficult to determine the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act, reports the New York Times.

Health policy experts planned to use the agency's income, poverty and health insurance report to better gauge how many individuals were uninsured before signing up for ACA coverage.

The Census Bureau said the new changes will make the report more accurate with a "total revision to health insurance questions." But with completely different questions, researchers can't directly compare the new findings with data for previous years, the Times notes.

"We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked," Brett J. O'Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau, told the Times.

However, the White House maintains the survey changes will make it easier to measure the effects of the Affordable Care Act. The current questionnaire is susceptible to "measurement errors", and tends to depict an "inflated estimate of the uninsured," according to Census Bureau statisticians and demographers.

The prior questionnaire asked individuals if they've received coverage at any point in the past year; the new questionnaire asks if they have insurance at the time of the interview, then asks follow-up questions to determine when the coverage began, notes the Times. The new questionnaire also asks individuals if their coverage is through an exchange, whether it has premiums and if the premiums are subsidized.

The White House continually refers to Census reports to show benefits of the healthcare law. In last year's report, 3 million people gained insurance between 2011 and 2012, partly because of an increase in Medicare and Medicaid enrollment, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

For more:
- read the New York Times article