Measuring health care costs of individuals with employer-sponsored health insurance in the U.S.: A comparison of survey and claims data

Stat J IAOS. 2012;28(1-2):43-51. doi: 10.3233/SJI-2012-0743.


As the core nationally representative health expenditure survey in the United States, the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) is increasingly being used by statistical agencies to track expenditures by disease. However, while MEPS provides a wealth of data, its small sample size precludes examination of spending on all but the most prevalent health conditions. To overcome this issue, statistical agencies have turned to other public data sources, such as Medicare and Medicaid claims data, when available. No comparable publicly available data exist for those with employer-sponsored insurance. While large proprietary claims databases may be an option, the relative accuracy of their spending estimates is not known. This study compared MEPS and MarketScan estimates of annual per person health care spending on individuals with employer-sponsored insurance coverage. Both total spending and the distribution of annual per person spending differed across the two data sources, with MEPS estimates 10 percent lower on average than estimates from MarketScan. These differences appeared to be a function of both underrepresentation of high expenditure cases and underestimation across the remaining distribution of spending.