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What is the most complete source of data on the use and costs of health care for Americans?

Using multimode methods to gather data for the MEPS-HC

Westat has conducted the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey–Household Component (MEPS-HC) since it began in 1996. MEPS, which is funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), is the most complete source of data on the use and costs of health care for the general civilian population of the U.S.

Westat annually fields a new panel of approximately 10,000 households that participated in the National Health Interview Survey in the prior year. These households contribute 2 years of data for national estimates. Data collected from household respondents are supplemented with data collected from their medical providers and pharmacies.

Interviewers typically conduct the main interview in person and respondents complete additional self-administered questionnaires (SAQs) in paper booklets. COVID-19 made in-person interviewing difficult in 2020 and into 2021, and some content on a 2021 SAQ warranted more privacy for individual respondents than paper alone could provide.

Westat is expanding multimode methods on MEPS. In the face of COVID-19, Westat switched most operations to telephone interviewing, building on an existing respondent website to provide households with materials and the “show cards” that respondents usually use in person to see response categories for specific items. For the 2021 SAQ, Westat developed both a web and paper version of the questionnaire and is using email and SMS to invite respondents to complete the web version.

For the future, Westat is working with AHRQ to develop a web and telephone follow-on survey for MEPS respondents with specific health concerns. We are also looking at ways to use multiple modes to gather health event data more continuously over time from willing respondents, augmenting the standard 5 interviews over a 2½-year period, improving data quality and reducing total respondent burden.

The MEPS Survey provides annual national estimates of the use of health care services, charges, and payments for the services, health insurance coverage, health conditions, and other items related to health care usage.

Each year, Westat produces 3 major data files and a series of topic-specific files. The program continuously improves quality and efficiency, now with enhanced multimode approaches.

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