The Household Component of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS-HC) is a nationally
representative survey of the U.S. civilian noninstitutionalized population. The sampling frame is drawn from
respondents to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), which is conducted by the National Center for Health
Statistics. For example, Panel 23 sample persons are drawn from the 2017 NHIS while Panel 24 sample persons are
drawn from the 2018 NHIS.
The MEPS-HC collects data from a nationally representative sample of households through an
overlapping panel design. A new panel of sample households is selected each year, and data for each panel are
collected for two calendar years. The two years of data for each panel are collected in five rounds of
interviews that take place over a two-and-a-half-year period. This provides continuous and current estimates
of health care expenditures at both the person and household level for two panels for each calendar year.
The chart below illustrates the timing and relationship between panels, rounds, and
calendar years. For example, looking at the data collection by panel, Panels 22 and 23 consist of five rounds
of interviews with Rounds 3-5 and Rounds 1-3 providing data for 2018. Looking at the data collection by year,
data for the year 2019 consists of data collected from Rounds 3-5 of Panel 23 and Rounds 1-3 of Panel 24.
Each round of MEPS-HC interviews collects information pertaining to a specific time period called
a reference period. Using Panel 23 as an example, the reference period for the first interview of Panel 23 began
on January 1, 2018, and ended on the date of each reporting unit's Round 1 interview, conducted from January
through June 2018. The reference periods for Rounds 2, 3, and 4 varied from household to household and covered
the time between interview dates of the previous round and the current round. The last reference period of Panel
23 (Round 5) ended on December 31, 2019. (December 31st of the second calendar year is always the end of the last
MEPS is a large-scale and comprehensive data collection effort that includes many types of survey
questions, some of which only pertain to subsets of the diverse respondents participating in the survey.
To accommodate the extensive array of questions covered, yet minimize the number of questions asked of each
respondent, data are collected using an intricate system of skip patterns and questionnaire modules grouped into
sections. Computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) using a laptop computer makes it possible to field such a
complex data collection instrument.
Since data are collected using CAPI, rather than a hard copy questionnaire, the data collection
instrument actually consists of sections that are composed of a series of computer screens containing questions,
interviewing instructions, and skip pattern directions, as well as computer programming notes embedded along with
each data item. The MEPS data collection in a given round consists of different sections. Some sections are
included in every round of data collection. Other sections are only included in one or two rounds?this type of
section is also referred to as a supplement.
Any single question must be considered within the context of the skip patterns incorporated into
the questionnaire. Some questions appear in several CAPI screens because of the variety of skip patterns that lead
to the question. The question is only asked when the skip pattern determines that it should be asked of that
respondent. Items asking the same question of various respondents typically map back to a single variable in
Click here to go to the MEPS-HC survey questionnaires. Click here to go to the MEPS-HC Survey Basics.