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 25 sample persons were drawn from the 2019 NHIS while Panel 26 sample persons
were drawn from the 2020 NHIS.
The MEPS-HC collects data from a nationally representative sample of households, where
a new panel of sample households is selected each year. Historically, each surveyed
household was interviewed five times (rounds) over a two-year period, which provides
continuous and current estimates of health care expenditures at both the person and
household level. However, in the spring of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic created
significant challenges to in-person data collection. To offset the decrease in the
number of cases for 2020 data, Panels 23 and 24 were extended to nine rounds (four
years) of data collection.
The chart below illustrates the timing and relationship between panels, rounds, and
calendar years. For example, looking at the data collection by panel, Panel 24
consists of nine rounds of interviews, with Rounds 1-3 providing data for 2019, Rounds
3-5 providing data for 2020, Rounds 5-7 providing data for 2021, and Rounds 7-9
providing data for 2022. Looking at the data collection by year, data for the year
2021 consists of data collected from Rounds 7-9 of Panel 23, Rounds 5-7 of Panel 24,
Rounds 3-5 of Panel 25, and Rounds 1-3 of Panel 26.
Each round of MEPS-HC interviews collects information pertaining to a specific time
period called a reference period. Using Panel 24 as an example, the reference period
for the first interview of Panel 24 began on January 1, 2019, and ended on the date of
each reporting unit's Round 1 interview, conducted from January through June 2019. The
reference periods for Rounds 2-9 varied from household to household and covered the
time between interview dates of the previous round and the current round.
Note that for Panel 23, the reference period for Round 5 ended on December 31, 2019
for all households, because at the time of the Round 5 interviews (conducted in early
2020), COVID-19 had not yet become prevalent in the U.S. After COVID-19 started
causing significant disruptions to data collection in the Spring of 2020, Panels 23
and 24 were extended to include nine rounds of interviews (instead of the usual five).
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
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 the database.
Click here to go to the MEPS-HC survey questionnaires. Click here to go to the MEPS-HC Survey Basics.