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Thursday, September 10, 2009

President Obama's Use of Gallup Data to Estimate the Uninsured

President Obama addressed a group of White House nurses this morning, and, in the course of his remarks, talked about the number of Americans who do not have health insurance. Noting that the Census Bureau had just come out with new data showing that "...the number of uninsured rose in 2008." The president went on to say:

"And we know from more up-to-date surveys that, since the recession intensified last September, the situation has grown worse. Over the last 12 months, it's estimated that the ranks of the uninsured have swelled by nearly 6 million people..."

Well, those "more up-to-date surveys" Obama is referring to are, in fact, Gallup's. Let me explain the origin of these estimates in some detail.

As part of our Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Gallup collects data on the percentage of adults with health insurance based on responses to the question: "Do you have health insurance coverage?" We interview about 30,000 people a month, thus providing very reliable estimates.

In September 2008, the Gallup-Healthways data showed that 13.9% of adults did not have health insurance. This July, the latest data available when the White House officials made their calculations, 16.4% of adults reported having no health insurance. The difference between these two percentage estimates is 2.5%, which -- when multiplied by the estimated 230 million adults in the U.S. -- yields a difference between those two points in time of 5.75 million people. Hence the reference in the president's remarks.

Of course, President Obama's remarks included the qualifier that this was an estimate, which is an important point to remember. Even with the extremely large sample sizes involved in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being surveys, there is some margin of error. But the comparison between the two months certainly suggests that there has been a significant increase in those without health insurance over that period of time.

One great advantage of the Gallup-Healthways daily surveys is the fact that they are about as up-to-date as possible. The president himself underscored the great value of this frequency when he mentioned his own Census Bureau's data and then moved past them to cite Gallup's "more up-to-date surveys."

To be sure, U.S. census data are in many ways definitive, gathered with meticulous care, and based on very solid research science. But it's a slow process for the most part. We are glad that Gallup is able to contribute to our understanding of what's happening in the American population by providing high frequency data on critical aspects of Americans' well-being.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...
September 10, 2009 at 4:30 PM  

This "more up to date" data would be more enlightening if it were to reflect how people spend their free market derived, disposable income, before, and, after economic downturn.

Chris said...
September 15, 2009 at 10:50 AM  

thanks for the post. do you know how many are uninsured because they can't afford it, versus how many are uninsured because they're between jobs or have simply chosen not to have health insurance with no regard to cost? thx!

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