WASHINGTON – State health officials are outraged by what they call an “inaccurate and misleading” Census Bureau report that claims the number of children with Medicaid coverage in Maryland dropped sharply.
The report, “Health Insurance Coverage: 1998,” said that the number of Maryland children on Medicaid fell from 151,000 in 1997 to 43,000 in 1998.
But the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said that the number of children on Medicaid in the state actually rose from 243,000 in 1997 to 248,000 in 1998. As of September, the number of Maryland children enrolled in Medicaid had risen to 290,000, said Debbie Chang, deputy secretary of health care financing in the state.
Chang said her data is based on actual Medicaid enrollment figures. Census officials said their report was based on statistics in the March 1999 Current Population Survey.
“Everyone knows that CPS (Current Population Survey) data is not accurate,” Chang said.
Census officials defended their 1998 Medicaid enrollment figures for Maryland, but said they are double-checking the CPS data collection process since questions have been raised, said John Finamore, a statistician at the Demographical Statistical Methods Division.
“There is a 90 percent confidence interval that the number for children on Medicaid in Maryland should fall between 24,000 and 62,000,” Finamore said.
However, he conceded that there were “definite reliability issues involved” when calculating statistics among population subgroups like children because the sample used is very small. The survey was based on interviews with 50,000 households around the country, of which 300 were children in Maryland, Finamore said.
“As with all survey estimates, the uncertainty in this estimate should be taken into consideration,” he said. “If we were to select another saample of similar size, we may arrive at a significantly different estimate.”
Chang said she did not see any dangers arising from the data put out by the Census Bureau “because most healthcare experts agree not to use CPS projections” knowing their inaccuracy.
The state has been enrolling children under both Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. CHIP, which was started in July 1998, provides health care coverage for pregnant women and children living beneath 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
The program is aided by the federal CHIP, which was proposed by President Clinton and enacted by Congress in August 1997.
In Maryland, the state program “has been extraordinarily successful in identifying and enrolling eligible children,” Chang said, adding that 58,000 children had been enrolled in just over a year — 97 percent of their goal for the year.
“We are committed to ensuring high-quality health insurance coverage to low-income children in Maryland. Providing coverage to uninsured children is one of our top priorities, and we have taken numerous steps to improve their access to coverage,” Chang said.