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 21 sample persons are drawn from the 2015 NHIS while Panel 22 sample persons are drawn from the 2016 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 20 and 21 consist of five rounds of interviews
with Rounds 3-5 and Rounds 1-3 providing data for 2016. Looking at the data collection by year, data for the year
2017 consists of data collected from Rounds 3-5 of Panel 21 and Rounds 1-3 of Panel 22.
Each round of MEPS-HC interviews collects information pertaining to a specific time period called
a reference period. Using Panel 21 as an example, the reference period for the first interview of Panel 21 began on
January 1, 2016, and ended on the date of each reporting unit's Round 1 interview, conducted from January through
June 2016. 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 21 (Round 5)
ended on December 31, 2017. (December 31st of the second calendar year is always the end of the last reference period.)
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 the database.
Click here to go to the MEPS-HC survey questionnaires. Click here to go to the MEPS-HC Survey Basics.