Comparing Federal Government Surveys that Count the Uninsured

Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

The Issue:

Timely and accurate estimates of the number of people without health insurance coverage are important for understanding policy around health insurance coverage.

This brief presents trends in national estimates of uninsurance from four federal surveys: (1) Current Population Survey (CPS); (2) American Community Survey (ACS); (3) National Health Interview Survey (NHIS); and (4) the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey—Household Component (MEPS-HC).

Key Findings

  • Three surveys with 2012 estimates available (CPS, ACS and NHIS), show a decline in the estimated number of people uninsured, in contrast to steadily rising numbers estimated for the several years previous to 2011.

  • For state-level analysis, the ACS and CPS are very useful and accessible for producing comparable estimates across states, and also serve as a valuable source of information for states that do not conduct their own state-specific insurance surveys.


Factors contributing to differences in survey estimates include conceptual differences in measures of uninsurance, reference period, difference in survey questions, and missing data and imputation. While no estimate is perfect, each survey is an important resource for estimating the number of uninsured. Together the surveys provide a wealth of information about uninsurance.