New figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau reveal some good news about health insurance coverage in the District of Columbia. The share of residents without insurance stood at 9.8 percent in 2007-2008, a significant decline from 12.9 percent in 2000-2001. When compared with states, DC is in the top fifth in its insurance coverage rate. (Massachusetts has the lowest uninsured rate, at 5.4 percent.)
The reduction in uninsured DC residents reflects greater access to government health insurance programs. Some 22 percent of DC residents had public health coverage in 2007-2008, up from 17 percent in 2000-2001. (The share of residents with employer-provided health insurance was basically the same in the two periods.) The increase in public health insurance receipt in DC likely reflects the creation of the DC HealthCare Alliance in 2001, which provides coverage to uninsured residents below 200 percent of poverty who are not eligible for other public programs. Roughly 40,000 DC residents will be served by the Alliance in 2010. The Alliance complements the District’s Medicaid program, which primarily serves low-income families with children and residents who are either elderly or disabled.
In addition, the District expanded health insurance for low-income families with children in its Medicaid program over the past decade. Medicaid eligibility for children was raised from 200 percent of poverty to 300 percent of poverty.
The new Census figures for DC point to an important policy success as the nation considers health care reform, showing that expanding access to health insurance coverage greatly reduces the share of residents who have no coverage.
These data reflect conditions in 2008. Since then, the decline in the national economy likely has left more residents without employer-provided health insurance. Even though some of the unemployed will qualify for Medicaid or the HealthCare Alliance, the share of residents without health insurance may be higher today. At the same time, the District is preparing to implement a new low-cost health insurance option for moderate-income families, called Healthy DC, which will increase access to health care.