Dear IPUMS CPS team,

I am currently analyzing trends in the coverage of employer-provided health insurance focusing on certain occupations, using the CPS dataset. In my analysis, I have been utilizing HINSEMP, a summary health insurance variable created by SHADAC. However, due to its limited availability (1996-2013), I have been exploring alternative approaches to measure coverage.

I have considered using GRPOWNLY (and INCLUGH), which measures policyholder status for employment-based health insurance and is available over a longer time span. However, I’ve noticed significant differences when using these variables. For instance, with HINSEMP, the proportion of Black workers covered by employer-provided health insurance appears significantly lower compared to white, non-Hispanic workers. But when using GRPOWNLY/INCLUGH, the share of Black workers who are policyholders of employment-based insurance appears much higher.

It seems these variables may be measuring different aspects. Could you offer guidance on how to understand GRPOWNLY/INCLUGH versus HINSEMP? Do they measure similar aspects of health insurance coverage, or are there distinct differences I should be aware of?

Thank you so much for your assistance in understanding these variables better.

Thank you for your patience as we looked into your question.

I believe the differences you are observing between these variables is a result of different universes (i.e., whose responses were recorded for each question). HINSEMP indicates whether respondents had any employer-sponsored health insurance coverage during the previous year with data recorded for all persons, both policyholders and non-policyholders (see the universe tab for HINSEMP). INCLUGH is only asked of persons 15+ who had private (nongovernmental) insurance in their own name during the previous calendar year, so anyone who did not have the policy in their name is automatically coded “NIU” (not in universe) for this variable, even if they are covered by someone else’s policy. Similarly, GRPOWNLY indicates whether, during the previous calendar year, the respondent was the policyholder for group health insurance that was related to current or past employment. Someone who is coded as “no” may still be covered by an employee-sponsored plan, but will be coded as no because they aren’t the policyholder.

For a more comparable variable, you may be interested in GRPCOVLY or GRPCOVNW, which include all persons (i.e., policyholders and non-policyholders). However, these variables are only available for the 2019-2023 ASEC samples.

You may also be interested in GRPTYPLY, which is an alternative variable that is available for a larger range of years (1996-2023). This variable indicates the type of employer-based coverage the employee had last year: self only, family, or self plus one. The variable description provides additional information about related variables that may be helpful to you. If you chose to use this variable, I may suggest you use this instead of HINSEMP rather than in combination with HINSEMP to ensure you are using a comparable variable across time.

If you would prefer to use HINSEMP, you may also be interested in using HINSEMP via IPUMS USA, which provides the employer-provided health insurance variable for the American Community Survey (ACS) from 2008-present.

I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have additional questions.