(Breaking Radio Silence with) Public Data Set Highlights: Healthcare Spending and BRFSS

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

It has been a long while since I was active here, primarily due to a sustained larger-than-average workload in my (now former) day job. I have since transitioned to a new position in a different agency with the state of Texas, which will hopefully afford me a bit more time and breathing room to be able to comment here more regularly on the many things that fascinate me about health, human rights, their intersection, and the myriad data sets analyses that relate to them.

And so I would like to break my radio silence by pointing out (as I have done previously) two health-related datasets that Dr. Jeremy Singer-Vine has highlighted in his Data is Plural series this month, which I continue to find delightful. The first is AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey:
Healthcare spending. Since 1996, the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey has collected data on “the specific health services that Americans use,” and the “health insurance held by and available to U.S. workers.” In a typical year, the survey collects data from more than 30,000 people from more than 10,000 families. In addition to the raw data files, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which runs the survey, also provides summary data tables. They show that, for example, in 2013 an estimated 61% of Americans faced expenses for prescription drugs, which cost the median patient about $278 before insurance.
The second is the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which was really cool to see since several analysts in my unit (while I was with the HIV prevention program) work with that data quite a bit:
Health habits. The CDC calls its Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System “the largest continuously conducted health survey system in the world.” Every year, the survey asks more than 400,000 American adults about a range of health-related topics, from tobacco to seatbelt use, from alcohol consumption to arthritis, from HIV testing to immunizations. Annual datasets from 1984–2015 are currently available.