Tomorrow, the Census Bureau will release new data on poverty, income, and health insurance in the United States in 2013. As we get ready to crunch numbers, we thought it would be helpful to take a deeper look at what these numbers will tell us about health insurance.

Where does this data come from?

Once a year, the Census Bureau includes additional questions on health coverage and income within their monthly Current Population Survey. This supplement is known as the Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). The ASEC questions regarding health insurance explore whether each member of the respondent household had insurance coverage throughout the previous calendar year, and if so, what kind of coverage. According to the Census Bureau, the ASEC is the most widely used source of data on health insurance coverage in the U.S.

There is some lag time between when the data are collected and when they are released. The Census Bureau conducts the survey in March and asks respondents about their insurance coverage over the entire previous year. It then takes several months to clean up the data and prepare it for release to the public in September. This means that the data released on Tuesday were collected in March of 2014 and will show insurance coverage rates for 2013.

This year, the Census Bureau is debuting revised questions to better understand the rate of the health insurance. These questions, which are only slightly altered from earlier survey questions, should provide a more accurate picture of how many Americans are insured. The new questions will provide a better baseline for understanding how the Affordable Care Act will increase the number of Americans with insurance. This year, because of the changes to ASEC, data from the American Community Survey will also be released on Tuesday. This data can be used for comparisons to past years, as well as state and local level information on health insurance coverage.

What will the data be able to tell us?

On Tuesday, we will be able to use the ASEC data to find out how many people in the United States had insurance coverage at any point during 2013 and what type of coverage they had (employer-based, Medicaid, Medicare, other government insurance, or insurance purchased on the private insurance market). Furthermore, we can break these numbers down by sex, age, race and ethnicity, and income, among other categories. The ability to analyze health insurance by these factors gives us a better picture of who does not have health coverage, as well as a better idea of who relies on different types of insurance the most. Such an understanding is important for researchers and policy makers who are trying to ensure that all populations have access to affordable health coverage and high quality care.

When can we expect the numbers to improve?

The Affordable Care Act –also known as Obamacare – has many provisions that make it easier and more affordable for Americans to gain health insurance. However, the data released this year will not reflect the more than eight million Americans who enrolled in the insurance through the new health insurance Marketplaces or the millions of Americans who were newly covered through Medicaid because of the ACA. The health insurance data the Census Bureau collects and releases in 2015 will reflect the first year of the law’s full implementation.

We expect the rate of insurance will continue to rise as more Americans gain coverage through the ACA. Some early looks at the effect of the ACA have already found that the number of uninsured Americans decreased by eight million between September 2013 and June 2014, or a 22 percent drop. The Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services projects the number of uninsured Americans will drop by nearly half over the next decade

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