The U.S. Census Bureau will change its annual survey to include a “total revision to health insurance questions,” essentially making it all but impossible to track Obamacare's successes and failures in its next report, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
Widely regarded as the most authoritative source on health insurance data in the country, the bureau’s shakeup was met by sharp criticism from analysts who hoped to follow Obamacare’s progress.
“I'm speechless. Completely inexcusable. The administration deserves all of the criticism it will get, and then some,” Bloomberg View’s Megan McArdle said in a tweet.
Vox senior editor Sarah Kliff added in a tweet of her own: “Getting worked up into an increasingly heated health nerd rage about the Census changes. We're losing our best data source on Obamacare.”
Bureau officials said in an internal memo that the new survey questions are intended to “improve the accuracy” of the census, according to the Times.
But the new questions are dramatically different from previous questions, meaning it will be impossible to compare to earlier data.
“The health insurance data reported in September of this year will not be directly comparable to what was reported last September,” Kathleen Call of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health told the Times.
Call said she’s excited for the changes as they will allow analysts “to look at monthly changes in coverage over a 14- or 15-month period, which was not possible with the old version of the survey.”
But here's something worth noting: If anything, the survey changes will likely result in the agency's new report showing a decline in the number of uninsured Americans.
“We are expecting much lower numbers just because of the questions and how they are asked,” Brett O’Hara, chief of the health statistics branch at the Census Bureau, told the Times.
Simply put, when the agency releases its next report on the health care law this fall, the census survey changes will almost certainly produce positive data on the effects of Obamacare.
A Census Bureau paper noted the timing of the survey changes with the implementation of major portions of Obamacare, but shrugged it off as “coincidental and unfortunate.”
“Ideally,” the paper said, “the redesign would have had at least a few years to gather base line and trend data.”
The agency does not plan to release data from earlier this year in its fall report, O’Hara said.
A representative with the U.S. Census Bureau did not immediately respond to TheBlaze request for comment.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter