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D.C. residents confront ‘stark disparities’ in pharmacy access, analysis finds

“Pharmacies are heavily concentrated in D.C.’s downtown and daytime centers”

A CVS Pharmacy in downtown D.C. (2014)
AFP/Getty Images

Obtaining medication and other healthcare products at traditional pharmacies appears to be more difficult east of the Anacostia River than west, according to a new report by local think tank D.C. Policy Center (DCPC). Citing 2016 data, DCPC finds that there were just 19 total pharmacies in Wards 7 and 8, compared to more than 125 in the six wards west of the river.

“That year, the city reported issuing 145 licenses to operating pharmacies,” DCPC’s Yesim Sayin Taylor and Kathryn Zickuhr write. “Pharmacies in the District of Columbia are heavily concentrated in D.C.’s downtown and daytime centers of population, with 36 licensed pharmacies in Ward 2 and 25 in Ward 6. Ward 3 has 21 pharmacies, while Ward 7 has only seven, and Ward 8 has 12.” More than 160,000 people live in Wards 7 and 8, out of a total District population of more than 700,000—a population that continues to grow each year.

DCPC’s analysis also finds that the number of children eligible for Medicaid and the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provides subsidized health coverage, is greatest where there are the fewest pharmacies. Upper Northwest’s “Ward 3 has an average of 31 Medicaid/CHIP-eligible children per licensed pharmacy, compared with 2,211 eligible children per pharmacy in Ward 7, 1,594 in Ward 8, and 1,029 in Ward 4,” DCPC writes. Low-income families are more likely to have poor health conditions than higher-income families.

Maps of licensed pharmacies and children eligible for federal healthcare assistance in D.C.
D.C. Policy Center

Taylor and Zickuhr note that the data present a limited portrait of healthcare access in D.C., as residents could face “additional gaps” in medicine and services at individual pharmacies. Still, it’s clear that communities on the east end of the District, where native Washingtonians tend to live, per past DCPC research, face “ongoing inequities in health care infrastructure,” they say. Among those inequities: the lack of quality hospital service, with D.C.’s only public hospital, United Medical Center, located in Southeast, ailing and slated for closure by 2023.

The District plans to open a new hospital on the St. Elizabeths East campus in the coming years and over the past several months has been in negotiations with George Washington University Hospital to be the operator. But whether a deal will materialize is yet to be seen.