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District of Columbia health insurance

Record low uninsured rate threatened by GOP efforts to repeal the ACA

2018 enrollment update

District of Columbia overview

Since the ACA’s individual shared responsibility provision took effect, DC’s uninsured population has steadily declined. With an uninsured rate of 3.7 percent in 2016, the District of Columbia was tied with Wisconsin for the third-lowest rate in the country, according to National Center for Health Statistics (according to US Census data, DC’s uninsured rate was 3.9 percent in 2016, which was the fourth-lowest, trailing only Hawaii, Vermont, and Massachusetts).

A December 2016 analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that 31,000 DC residents were uninsured. If the Affordable Care Act were repealed, that number would more than double to 63,000. GOP lawmakers and the Trump Administration pushed for repeal throughout 2017, but legislative efforts hit a roadblock in late July when Senate Republicans failed to pass three different versions of the repeal bill that the House had passed in May. The repeal effort failed again in September, but GOP lawmakers succeeded in repealing the individual mandate penalty as part of their tax bill that was enacted in late 2017. However, that repeal doesn’t take effect until 2019.

As of December 5, 2017, enrollment in small business plans through DC’s exchange stood at 75,633, by far the highest SHOP enrollment in the country (DC doesn’t have an off-exchange option, so small businesses that want coverage must enroll through DC Health Link. In addition, members of Congress and their staffers must enroll through DC Health Link’s SHOP exchange in order to get their employer contribution to their health insurance premiums).

Also as of December 5, enrollment in individual market plans for 2018 stood at 18,740, which was similar to enrollment at the same time year year before. Open enrollment for 2018 coverage continues until January 31, 2018 in DC. Only three state-run exchanges (New York, California, and DC) opted to keep the full three-month open enrollment that had previously been scheduled for 2018 coverage, after the federal government cut the enrollment period in half for states that use

District of Columbia health ratings

The District of Columbia ranks 20th nationally in the Commonwealth Fund’s 2017 Scorecard on State Health System Performance — the same as 2015’s ranking, but up from 21st in 2104. The ranking gives each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia an overall score based on more than 40 health indicators. The indicators are grouped into five categories, with the District of Columbia scoring in the top quartile for Access and Equity.

America’s Health Rankings does not give the District of Columbia an overall ranking. However, you can check the data to see how the District of Columbia is performing on a variety of health indicators. Positives include few poor physical health days and low prevalences of obesity and excessive drinking. The District of Columbia’s biggest health challenges include a high rate of violent crime, low rate of high school graduation and high prevalence of low birthweight.

Another source for public health information is the 2016 edition of Trust for America’s Health. This resource provides scores on individual health measures, but no overall rankings for the states or the District of Columbia. See Key Health Data About District of Columbia.

2018 health insurance rates, plans for DC

Those living in the District of Columbia can only purchase individual and small group coverage through this marketplace; there is no off-exchange option.

DC Health Link’s 2018 carriers are the same as those who offered QHPs in 2017, but they have additional plan options available. The participating carriers and their average approved rate increases for 2018 are as follows:

  • CareFirst HMO (CareFirst Blue Choice): 19.6 percent (much lower than initially proposed; CareFirst had proposed an average increase of 39.6 percent)
  • CareFirst PPO (GHMSI): 19.6 percent
  • Kaiser Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic (HMO only): 13 percent average

There were 20 plans available through DC’s individual market in 2017; they included four PPOs and 16 HMOs. A total of 26 plans are available in the DC Health Link individual market in 2018.

How has Obamacare helped DC?

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 50,000 District of Columbia nonelderly residents were uninsured in January 2014. About 27,500 of these residents were estimated to qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, with many of them newly qualified under the ACA’s more generous eligibility criteria.

An additional 5,000 of uninsured, nonelderly residents qualified for the ACA’s premium tax subsidies to help them purchase medical insurance through the marketplace.

At 3.7 percent, the District of Columbia’s uninsured rate is tied with Wisconsin for the third lowest in the nation, according to the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Health Interview Survey 2015, which was released in May 2016.

Since DC Health Link’s first open enrollment period began October 1, 2013, more than 221,000 people have enrolled in private health insurance or Medicaid through the exchange.

DC enrollment in qualified health plans

Approximately 10,700 individuals selected a qualified health plan through DC Health Link during the first Obamacare open enrollment period. This was 29.8 percent of the estimated eligible market in the District of Columbia. Nationally, 28 percent those deemed eligible signed up for QHPs during the 2014 open enrollment period.

During the 2014 open enrollment period, 45 percent of the people who signed up for private health plans through the District’s exchange were ages 18 to 34 – the highest percentage in the U.S. Nationwide, 28 percent of enrollees belonged to this age group.

In the District of Columbia there is no off-exchange enrollment for individuals or small businesses. In September 2015, a new Plan Match tool was launched to help DC consumers compare plans and select 2016 coverage.

DC Health Link’s 2016 open enrollment period, including a two-day extension, saw 22,912 individuals select private qualified health plans through the exchange. As of March 31, 2016, effectuated enrollment stood at 17,266, and just 6.9 percent were receiving premium subsidies, which is the lowest percentage in the country. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, DC’s exchange enrolled 74 percent of eligible residents as of February 1, 2016 – nationwide, the average was 46 percent and in Vermont, the only other state that did not offer off-exchange plans in 2016, only 49 percent of those eligible to enroll did so.

During the 2017 open enrollment period, 21,248 people enrolled in individual market plans through the exchange. HHS reported that effectuated (paid-up) enrollment stood at 18,038 as of February 2017, with just 4 percent receiving premium subsidies. By early March, 2017, plan selections had grown to 24,351. Of those, 7,207 were new enrollees, and the rest had renewed their 2016 coverage from 2016. At that point, 18,683 people had in-force, paid-up coverage.

District of Columbia and the Affordable Care Act

While a delegate represents the District of Columbia in the U.S. House of Representative, that delegate does not vote on proposed bills. The District of Columbia is not represented in the U.S. Senate. Accordingly, the District of Columbia is not “on record” for the 2010 House and Senate votes establishing the Affordable Care Act.

The District of Columbia City Council established a state-run health insurance marketplace under the ACA. The legislation establishing the District of Columbia Health Benefit Exchange Authority was signed into law by Mayor Vincent Gray (D) in January 2012. The bill was also subject to review by the U.S. Congress. This is the typical process for legislation in the District of Columbia, and Congress rarely rejects laws passed by the District of Columbia.

The District of Columbia’s marketplace is named DC Health Link, and it is the only place that individual and small group markets can purchase major medical health insurance plans in DC. The District also accepted Medicaid expansion, and total enrollment in DC’s Medicaid program grew by more than 50,000 people from late 2013 through May 2017.

The District’s Medicaid program

The District of Columbia is one of 32 states that have expanded Medicaid under the ACA. The expansion extends Medicaid eligibility to most nonelderly adults at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

During Obamacare’s 2014 open enrollment period, 19,464 District of Columbia residents qualified for Medicaid or CHIP – some under existing criteria and some under the ACA expansion. Note that individuals can sign up for Medicaid or lose coverage if their eligibility changes anytime throughout the year, so enrollment totals fluctuate each month.

From before the ACA expansion through May 2017, the District’s average monthly Medicaid enrollment increased 16 percent.

More details about the District of Columbia’s Medicaid program, eligibility criteria and enrollment process are available through DC’s Department of Health Care Finance.

Medicare enrollment in DC

In 2015, there were 88,421 DC residents enrolled in Medicare in the District of Columbia, about 13 percent of the District’s total population. Nationally, about 17 percent of the total population is enrolled in Medicare. The District spent about $9,490 per enrollee in 2014, about 6 percent more than the national average.

In the District of Columbia, Medicare enrollees can select a Medicare Advantage plan instead of Original Medicare as a way to receive additional benefits. Of District Medicare enrollees, 13 percent select Medicare Advantage, a number much smaller than the 31 percent who do so nationwide. Medicare Part D provides 45 percent of District Medicare enrollees with stand-alone Rx benefits.

Washington DC health insurance resources

Healthcare legislation in DC

More District of Columbia coverage

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