Milken Institute School of Public Health Receives $1.1 Million Grant to Study Economics of Community Health Centers

WASHINGTON, D.C. (April 16, 2019) – The Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University (GW) today announced a $1.1 million grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to analyze the economic costs and sustainability of community health centers.

“The nation’s more than 1,300 community health centers play an essential role in the U.S. health care system by delivering primary care to a medically underserved population of approximately 26 million, regardless of patients’ ability to pay,” said Avi Dor, PhD, principal investigator of the project and a professor of health policy and management at Milken Institute SPH. “The long-term viability of our community health centers is dependent upon their sustained financial health.”

The four-year grant will fund the first effort to assess the financial health of the nation’s community health centers by estimating the economic cost of the services the centers provide. Dor, an expert in health economics, will use an econometric approach to generate and analyze the data.

AHRQ aims to develop the knowledge, tools and data needed to improve the health care system and help Americans, health care professionals, and policymakers make informed health care decisions. Dor’s research will estimate the cost savings that community health centers produce through their pioneering and widespread integration of primary care and mental health services.

“Conventional accounting methods are unable to assess the quality-adjusted costs of the services offered by community health centers,” Dor said. “Our econometric analysis will explore the trade-offs that community health centers will have to consider as financial pressures grow.”

The federal Community Health Center Fund for community health centers is set to expire Sept. 30. This represents 70 percent of federal grant funding for health centers. It is uncertain whether funding will be renewed, and data generated from the project could influence policymakers’ decisions, Dor said.

“A better understanding of community health centers’ costs and how they are allocated among the various services that centers offer will help to inform the policy debate on the adequacy of public support for the centers’ mission,” Dor said.

The project’s team includes researchers at Milken Institute SPH and Boston University.