Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau tries to count everyone in the U.S. – an endeavor that touches the medical world deeply.
“I don’t think a lot of physicians realize what a huge impact this has and how an undercount of the census can be potentially devastating for our patients,” says Lauren Gambill, MD, an Austin pediatrician who is promoting education about the census.
Among other things, the census shapes the direction of $675 billion in federal funding, including programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and several others that directly affect patients. It also reshapes the U.S. political map, determining where lawmakers draw district boundaries for Congress and the Texas Legislature. And it guides planning for future medical services.
History shows that some people are harder to count than others. Undercounts are common among immigrants, African Americans, and Hispanics. They’re also common among children, especially newborns.
A George Washington University study examined how a Texas undercount would affect funding for five programs: Medicaid, CHIP, adoption assistance, childcare, and foster care. It found that if Texas’ undercount is just 1% more than what it was in the 2010 census, Texas would lose about $300 billion in those five programs alone. This is a conservative estimate, the study says.
Physicians can improve census reporting by stressing the census’ importance to patients and explaining that it’s safe. (See this 30-second Census Bureau video.) The information people give is private and guarded from other branches of federal, state, and local governments. People will begin receiving official Census Bureau mail March 12, and the final counting will end July 31.
Here are resources physicians can use to better understand the census and promote participation among patients:
And watch for the March edition of Texas Medicine magazine, which will feature more in-depth coverage of the census impact in Texas.