Sub26ers: Reducing the Lower Line (UPDATE)

Hat Tip To: 
Chris Conover

Regular followers may recall that a couple of weeks ago, in response to a Glenn Kessler "Fact Checker" article, I ended up converting the "Sub26er" tally from a solid 3.1 million figure (the number touted by Pres. Obama and the HHS Dept. for months) to a "range" setup, similar to the other enrollment figures.

Kessler's argument was essentially that the quarterly reports comparing the number of 19-25-year-olds on their parent's plans between 2010 and 2013 fluctuated greatly from one quarter to another, and that therefore instead of taking one particular quarter and measuring it against another (which is where the 3.1M figure came from), it would be more rational to take the averages for the full years and compare those against each other. Based on this, he came up with a range of 2.2M - 2.8M, instead of 3.1M solid.

My response at the time was that, frankly, I'm in over my head on these reports, and am too swamped at the moment to properly study/compare them, but it seems legit enough that I was willing to split the difference. As a result, my current "Sub26er" number ranges from 2.5M to the original 3.1M. Basically, take your pick depending on what you feel the better methodology is.

HOWEVER, a few days ago, I got into a bit of an online tussle with one Chris Conover, who works at Duke University and writes for Forbes, among other accolades. It got a bit ugly on both of our parts; he accused me of being "dishonest" and of "cherry-picking" for not using some other study that he insisted was a more accurate measure of the Sub26er figure (and which I'd also never heard of, nor had time to take a look at), while I lost my temper at one point and accused (modern) Republicans in general of not even trying to help the uninsured. Not that I regret saying that, but my wording was, to put it mildly, unprofessional :)

Anyway, he had sent me a link to this other study that he had referred to, from the SHADAC Data Center, with these comments:

Using the American Community Survey, the point-in-time estimate of the number of uninsured young adults age 19-25 declined from 9,541,264 in 2010 to 8,017,137 in 2012--a net decline of 1.5 million that is only half as large as the 3.1 million figure obtained from NHIS that is reported by ASPE. The ACS is a much bigger survey than NHIS (NHIS sampling error is 3.5 times as large as ACS).

The ACS figure is a much more reliable and precise figure than the NHIS figure. I strongly encourage you to substitute it for the misleading 3.1 million figure used in your tracking sheet. ASPE's methodology for allocating the 3.1 million is perfectly reasonable: indeed they use the ACS for this purpose precisely because it has a much bigger sample!

Now, just like with Mr. Kessler's response, I really don't have the time to review this SHADAC study in detail, nor am I an expert on such things. However, I did promise to at least look into it, and to check on this SHADAC organization to see if they're legit or not (remember, I had exactly zero experience in healthcare journalism before I started this project). I checked with someone I trusted and was told the following:

The shadac folks are very solid researchers and their stuff is credible.  I haven't looked at their analysis of this in a while. I believe they used CPS, not ACS. The federal study used NHIS. And I believe the methods were somewhat different. 

OK, then. I wasn't told that the HHS number was wrong or that the 3.1 million figure was too high...but it does appear that the SHADAC study is solid as well.

Therefore, while I'm obviously not thrilled about doing so, I'm willing to concede the point to Mr. Conover and go with his figure as the lower-end range of the Sub26er total (he said 1.5M to me, but raised it to1.6M in his own ACA-roundup article from yesterday).

Therefore, the Sub26er range will change to 1.6M - 3.1M upon the next Graph update (likely tomorrow).

(Of course, all of this may be meaningless at this point anyway, as the events of the past 6 months have completely changed the insurance landscape, including of 19-25 year olds since 2012, so who the heck knows what the situation is now?)

UPDATE: Mr. Conover has issued his response in the comments below. Unless he wants to push the point, this will be my last comment on the matter.