Families asked to participate in medical expenditure survey locally

Study to assess health care costs in rural areas and nationwide

July 21, 2014

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – A small group of preselected Garfield County families are receiving a knock on the door from a field representative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to collect local data on health care. The first-time visits are to report what the true costs of health care are in this rural county, and the data will be melded with results gathered nationwide from metropolitan areas. The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) is a confidential, on-going, nationwide survey aiming to pin down accurate cost figures for health care across the country.

The survey also looks at how Americans pay for their care. Information is collected through interviews of all family members in specific households chosen from U.S. Census Bureau statistics. The interviews are conducted by field representatives from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In Garfield County, the MEPS field representative – whose name is omitted here for confidentiality purposes – says that while the survey has been done for decades, this is the first time such results have been gathered locally.

“Our mission is to gather confidential statistics to find where barriers to access for needed services, or health insurance gaps are affecting rural citizens,” the representative said. “Some underserved people do not have access to needed services or certain treatments in their health insurance coverage, or if another specialization is needed, that may not be covered. We are seeking to find barriers and disparity in coverage.

“Sometimes people are charged overpriced premiums or deductibles, and that takes a lot of savings – or they have to opt out of health care and then are penalized for not having it,” she added. “There may be a huge gap to fill for working Americans. Garfield County has been chosen as a viable mouthpiece for this study because we want a picture of rural America.”

One response will represent thousands of other families in the sampling. Only 10 families from each municipality in Garfield County will be approached for interviews. While that may sound like a small number, the total survey only includes 150 communities nationwide. DHHS says this statistically reliable, sample-selection process ensures that selected households represent thousands of similar households across the country.

In addition to access to health care, the study aims to find deficiencies in private and public health insurance coverage, and the economic struggles small businesses undergo to provide coverage. Results will be provided to federal, state and local governments and colleges to help make decisions on laws to assist families with health care coverage.

Garfield County Commissioners have long been seeking to bring attention to the plight that citizens here have faced with expensive health care costs. The county has recently had some of the highest insurance premium rates in the nation, while income levels are not at all relative to these costs.

Each household is asked to take part in five interviews over a two-and-a-half-year period to ensure accuracy. The interviews typically take one to one and a half hours. One adult answers the questions for the family, but all members are encouraged to be present. Families will be paid $50 per visit for their contributions.

The interviewer will ask participants about recent health care visits and experiences, as well as gather information on age, education, health status, employment, and health care coverage. Confidentiality of the responses is protected by the Public Health Service Act.

Participation is entirely voluntary, and any data collected will be used by researchers from federal and state governments, universities, and the private sector to better understand the cost of care and how it affects families.

Interviews will be scheduled at Garfield County offices or libraries if citizens are reticent about being interviewed at their homes.

For more information, go to https://www.meps.ahrq.gov.