Republicans question motive of Census Bureau survey changes


Republicans in both houses of Congress urged the Census Bureau Thursday to maintain its old questions used for tracking how many U.S. residents have health insurance in order to better observe any shifts caused by ObamaCare.

In the Senate, Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderWeek ahead: Senators near deal to stabilize ObamaCare markets Corker pressed as reelection challenges mount Overnight Health Care: CBO predicts 15 percent ObamaCare premium hike | Trump calls Sanders single-payer plan ‘curse on the US’ | Republican seeks score of Sanders’s bill MORE (R-Tenn.), John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneAviation panel recommends Trump roll back safety rules Overnight Regulation: House moves to block methane rule | Senators wrestle with allowing driverless trucks | EPA delays toxic waste rule Overnight Tech: Senate looks at self-driving trucks | Facebook to keep ads off fake news | House panel calls Equifax CEO to testify MORE (R-S.D.) and Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchFinance to hold hearing on ObamaCare repeal bill Overnight Finance: CBO to release limited analysis of ObamaCare repeal bill | DOJ investigates Equifax stock sales | House weighs tougher rules for banks dealing with North Korea Week ahead in finance: Clock ticking for GOP on tax reform MORE (R-Utah) sent a letter to Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson urging him to keep using current health insurance coverage questions for two more years while the bureau rolls out a set of new questions.

“We respectfully request that you continue to collect data using both the old and new survey questions for this year and next year,” the senators said in their letter. “Continuing to collect data using both the old and new survey questions will help ensure that you do not conflate a change in measurement with changes due to implementation of the new health care law.”

The Senators added that it was "alarming" that the administration appeared to be acting to obscure ObamaCare's effects, and asked for answers regarding what role the White House played in deciding to implement the new survey questions.

On the House side, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Blake FarentholdBlake FarentholdSupreme Court blocks rulings forcing Texas to redraw districts Trump surveys hurricane damage in Texas Justice Alito temporarily blocks order for Texas voting map to be redrawn MORE (R-Texas) sent their own letter to Thompson questioning the Bureau's decision. Issa heads the House Oversight Committee, while Farenthold heads the subcommittee on Federal Workforce, U.S. Postal Service and the Census. The representatives requested that the administration turn over all communications between and among employees of the Census Bureau, the Department of Health and Human Services and several other government agencies regarding the implementation of the revised questions.

"We have serious concerns about the timing of this revision given the purported input and approval of officials at the White House and HHS of these revamped survey questions," the representatives said.

The forthcoming "total revision" of the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey questions regarding health insurance was first reported Tuesday in The New York Times. The changes, the Bureau notes, will make new measurements of insurance coverage incompatible with old data gathered in prior years. The changes are especially contentious because the Census Bureau’s surveys are the most authoritative source on what proportion of U.S. residents have health insurance.