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MEPS Background

Scope and Purpose of MEPS

The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey household component is a large-scale survey of families and individuals in scientifically selected communities across the United States. Survey respondents previously participated in the National Health Interview Study conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The goal of the survey is to provide information about health status, health insurance coverage, health care use and expenses, and sources of payment for health care. These data are vitally important to researchers and policymakers in addressing the critical health care issues facing this country in the twenty-first century.

Survey information is collected for households every five or six months over a two and a half year period. Five interviews in all are conducted. Respondents answer questions about their health care experiences during the year they enter the study and the following year.

Other components of MEPS collect information directly from medical providers, employers, and other sources of health insurance. By linking data on individuals and households directly with their medical use and health care costs, MEPS provides a comprehensive picture of how Americans use and pay for health care.

History of Medical Expenditure Surveys

Surveys collecting data on medical expenditures began in the 1970s at a time when the structure of health care services, private insurance, Federal health care programs, and the characteristics of the U.S. population were undergoing enormous change. The first of these was the National Medical Care Expenditure Surveys, NMCES, conducted in 1977 and composed of three main components: a household survey, a survey of physicians utilized by the household members, and a health insurance-employer component. Approximately 14,000 households participated in six rounds of interviews over a 14-month period.

In 1987, the National Medical Expenditure Survey (NMES) was conducted. Approximately 16,000 households participated in NMES, including 2,000 American Indian and Alaskan Native households. Once again, the household information was supplemented by surveys of medical and health insurance providers utilized by respondents.

In 1996, the current survey, the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, was designed to provide more timely information about the nation's changing health care system. The MEPS study introduces a new panel or sample of households into the survey every year rather than every 10 years. MEPS households are a subsample of households that participated in the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) approximately six months to a year earlier. Like the earlier surveys, the information collected from households is supplemented by surveys of medical and health insurance providers. One of the most important advantages of the current MEPS survey is that it is conducted on a continual basis—a new sample of households enters the survey each year. This provides researchers with a continual stream of up-to-date information.


The study is sponsored by two agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
Telephone: (301) 427-1364
Improving the Quality, Safety, Efficiency, and Effectiveness of Health Care For All Americans