For the second year, the share of District residents without health insurance got smaller, according to data released today by the U.S. Census Bureau. Just 3.8 percent of DC residents lacked health coverage in 2015, compared with 6.7 percent in 2013. While there’s still progress to be made, that’s equivalent to about 17,000 more residents having health coverage.
District leaders should be applauded for leading the way in providing affordable insurance options for nearly all residents, resulting in DC having the second highest rate of insured in the country, behind only Massachusetts. Much of DC’s success can be attributed to its array of insurance options that have expanded as a result of federal health reform. DC’s Medicaid program now covers nearly all adults with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line (less than $40,320 for a family of three). Nearly a third of DC residents get their health coverage from Medicaid, including two out of every three children. In addition, low-income DC residents not eligible for Medicaid can get coverage through the Healthcare Alliance program, and others may qualify for subsidies to pay for private insurance through DC Health Link, the city’s health insurance exchange.
There is no doubt that having health insurance makes a difference, according to a growing body of research. Having Medicaid coverage improves health, increases use of preventive care and screenings, and reduces financial hardship. It also improves children’s long-term educational outcomes and earnings as adults.
Despite these gains, there are 25,000 District residents who still lack health coverage, and there are steps the District should take to reduce that number over the next year. We previously noted that certain individuals are more likely to lack insurance, such as people who live outside, face language barriers, or have less than a 9th grade education. In addition, many residents face challenges in applying for or renewing benefits, especially in the Healthcare Alliance. The Alliance’s restrictive eligibility processes appear to have led thousands of eligible residents to go without health insurance. More work is needed not only to reach those who remain uninsured, but also to reduce the potential barriers that prevent them from enrolling, re-enrolling, and ultimately accessing care.
The 2015 health insurance coverage estimates are the first of two data releases from the U.S. Census Bureau this week. For more information on poverty trends in the District, tune in to the District Dime this Thursday for our extended commentary.
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