In 2009, within the first few weeks of taking office President Obama, moved control of the Census Bureau from the office of the Commerce Secretary to the White House ahead of the 2010 Census. Republicans were irate, thinking it was an effort to politicize the 2010 headcount itself. Unfortunately, Republicans were thinking small. As the New York Times reveals, the Census Bureau “is changing its annual survey so thoroughly that it will be difficult to measure the effects of President Obama’s health care law in the next report, due this fall, census officials said.”
Not difficult. Virtually impossible:
“The changes are intended to improve the accuracy of the survey, being conducted this month in interviews with tens of thousands of households around the country. But the new questions are so different that the findings will not be comparable, the officials said. An internal Census Bureau document said that the new questionnaire included a ‘total revision to health insurance questions’ and, in a test last year, produced lower estimates of the uninsured. Thus, officials said, it will be difficult to say how much of any change is attributable to the Affordable Care Act and how much to the use of a new survey instrument.
‘We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,’ said Brett J. O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau.”
Expecting? The administration already tested the change last year. When interviewers asked people the old set of questions, the data revealed that 12.5 percent of Americans had no health insurance. When the new questions were asked, the percentage dropped to 10.6 percent. On the other side of the ledger, the percentage of people with private insurance increased in response to the new set of questions. Researchers further noted that the pattern remained similar for different age, race and ethnic groups.