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Life Health > Health Insurance > Health Insurance

Disability Insurance Observer: Who's Out There?

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Disability insurance communities actuaries, and market analysts may soon have large batches of new survey data to peruse.

  • An arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has added a detailed disability supplement to the 2011 National Health Interview Survey.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor is also adding a detailed disability supplement to the Current Population Survey.
  • The Social Security Administration will be sponsoring the addition of a disability supplement to the Census Bureau’s Survey of Income and Program Participation.
  • The  National Institute on Aging and the National Institutes of Health are having outside researchers conduct a new National Health and Aging Trends Study (NHATS).

A team of researchers led by Gina Livermore of Mathematica Policy Research Princeton, N.J., talks about the state of federal disability survey programs in a disability survey program review commissioned by HHS planners.

Federal agencies already sponsor many disability surveys, but HHS planners are thinking about organizing a new national disability survey data collection effort, or survey coordination project, because of concerns about issues such as inconsistent definitions of disability, small sample sizes, and lack of questions about topics such as job accommodations for people with disabilities and the spending patterns of people with disabilities.

HHS has a strong interest in disability survey information because about 12% of U.S. individuals ages 5 and older who live in the community have disabilities, and the federal government spent about $357 billion in fiscal year 2008 on programs aimed at working-age adults with disabilities, according to Livermore and her colleagues.

HHS administered an annual National Health Interview Survey on Disability from 1994 to 1997. Since then, the researchers say, the government has not sponsored any large-scale, national disability surveys that have drawn survey participants from the U.S. general population.

But the researchers did look at 40 national surveys and covered 11 of the surveys in more depth than they covered the others.

Survey managers already have started adding disability questions to existing surveys, the researchers say.

Managers of the National Health Interview Survey, for example, added disability questions, such as general questions about activity limitations, in 2008.

An arm of HHS contacts 35,000 households for that survey every month.

This year, managers of the National Health Interview Survey are participating in an effort to put a standardized set of questions in multiple surveys in multiple countries, the researchers say.

Questions in the new National Health Interview Survey disability supplement cover topics such as the severity of difficulty with particular activities, use of assistive devices such as hearing aides and canes, activity limitations, anxiety and depression, and pain.

Organizers of national health surveys in other countries are asking the same questions, to help researchers make cross-country comparisons, researchers say.

The Census Bureau conducts another major survey, the Current Population Survey, for the Labor Department and other agencies. The pollsters for that survey contact 60,000 households per month.

The Labor Department isdeveloping a disability supplement for the 2012 Current Population Survey that will “provide new, detailed information on the employment-related issues of people with disabilities,” researchers say. “Potential topics include the nature of the disability, work history, living arrangements, social environment, family background, income, employment counseling and training, assistive technology and employer accommodations, telecommuting and transportation, and use of government programs.”

The researchers note that they have no information yet about the disability supplement the Social Security Administration plans to add to another Census Bureau survey, the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

The National Health and Aging Trends Study, the new Medicare enrollee survey, will monitor changes in the lives and activities of Medicare enrollees over age 65 over time.

“Participants will be interviewed once a year on topics including living arrangements, economic status and well-being, work status and participation in valued activities, quality of life, daily activities and help provided with such activities, mobility and use of assistive devices, cognitive functioning, health, and health care,” researchers say. “During the interview, participants will also be asked to conduct activities including standing, getting up from a chair, walking, breathing, and memory exercises. In addition, the interviewer will record the respondent’s height, weight, and waist circumference.”


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