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Updated Study Highlights Health Disparities in the District of Columbia

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Living Unequally: Disrupting Health Disparities in the District
By Louis Davis, Jr., AARP DC State Director

Years of research have shown us that systemic inequities have blocked economic opportunity for some Americans and left others in poor health – even shortening their lives. These long-standing inequities include discrimination based on factors including age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, geography, and income. Regardless of the characteristic used to discriminate, disparities in the United States obstruct the health security and financial resilience that enable people to thrive equitably as they age, and at every decade of life.

That is why AARP is fighting at the federal, state, and local levels to reduce disparities, especially among Communities of Color and other vulnerable groups, and reduce wealth and income gaps by race and other factors.

Importance of Data to Fight Health Dipartites

Federal, state, and local governments must improve their health-related data collection. Jurisdictions should adopt common standards for collecting data, committing to the ethical and transparent use of data, and making this data more easily available to lawmakers, public officials, and the public. Broad health data will help decision makers, providers, and community health advocates track healthcare outcomes for different population groups and make necessary policy changes with the goal of promoting health equity.

That is why AARP DC has sought to gather data to help inform what is happening in the District.

In the spring of 2021, AARP DC and Georgetown University’s Department of Health Systems Administration released a comprehensive study on health disparities among Black older adults living in the District of Columbia. In the summer of 2023, AARP DC sought to update the study, The District of Columbia: An Empirical Review of Health Disparities in Older Black Adults. The newly released updated review includes current data reflecting the state of health equity in the District.

Key findings from the updated review include:

  • A 15-year age gap in life expectancy between those living in Ward 3 (86 years old) and Ward 8 (71 years old)
  • Preventable hospital admissions for Medicare enrollees are more than 4 times higher for older Blacks than older non-Hispanic white residents
  • Overall cancer mortality in Black residents is 2 times higher
  • Black women are 1.5 times more likely to die from breast cancer
  • The number of Black residents over age 65 who live below the federal poverty level is almost 5 times higher

Additionally, AARP DC conducted an in-person survey of approximately 530 District residents. AARP Research helped craft the survey with the goal of gathering the thoughts and experiences on access and quality of healthcare among District residents 40 and older. The survey questions focused on the resident’s current health status and the quality of and access to their healthcare.

Key findings from the AARP DC survey on access to healthcare include:

  • Residents 40-plus living east of the river are about twice as likely to report having fair or poor health than their counterparts west of the river
  • Residents 40-plus living east of the river are also about four times as likely to face barriers to accessing health care services in their community

To read the full health review and survey, see links below. We want to hear from you! To help AARP DC in the advocacy to disrupt health disparities, email

Underlying social issues, such as poverty and unaffordable housing, must also be addressed to begin to break the cycle of health disparities between the east and west sides of the Anacostia River. AARP DC will continue to press for resources and collaborative partnerships between government, healthcare providers, community organizations, and others to make lasting improvements to healthcare infrastructure.

Click the following links to view the report:

Additional information about the reports:

The District of Columbia: An Empirical Review of Health Disparities in Older Black Adults
In the summer of 2023, AARP DC refreshed A Review of Health and Socioeconomic Disparities among Black Older Adults in the District of Columbia. The revised review includes current data reflecting the state of health equity in The District. Life expectancy shows the result of such disparities. In Ward 3, which is predominantly white, the life expectance is 87 years old; while in Ward 8, which is predominately black, the life expectancy is 71 years old. The revised review outlines health-related data noting that high-quality medical care is shaped by socioeconomic, environmental, and political conditions.

Aging Unequally: Health Disparities Among Older Adults in the District of Columbia
To build on the research from the review, in 2022 AARP DC deployed a survey with the goal of determining the self-reported access and quality of health care among District seniors 40 and older. With the help of research partners at AARP national, AARP DC surveyed over 530 people at select events in Wards 4, 7, and 8 with questions on their current health status (responses were anonymous) and the quality and access of their health care. Survey respondents were usually those who had access to services and generally ranked their health care experience higher than expected.

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