Leighton Ku

Leighton Ku

Leighton Ku

M.P.H., Ph.D.

Professor and Director of the Center for Health Policy Research

Full-time Faculty

School: Milken Institute School of Public Health

Department: Health Policy and Management


Email: Leighton Ku
Office Phone: [email protected]
Milken Institute School of Public Health 950 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Office: 611 - Floor 6 Washington DC 20052

As a health policy researcher, a public policy analyst, and an advocate, Dr. Ku's career has been built around the effort to understand and improve access to affordable health care for vulnerable populations. Among his areas of expertise are national and state health reforms, Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), immigrant health, prevention and health care financing and budgets, with an emphasis on strengthening the health care safety net. "I am interested in applying the lessons of research to policies and programs at the federal and state levels, and working with governmental officials, community groups and advocacy organizations to advance policies and progress," he says. He has authored or co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and 200 other policy and translational health policy research reports. As a faculty, he has taught research methods and statistics at the graduate level for about 25 years. As a member of the community, he has help develop and guide the District of Columbia's health insurance marketplace since 2012 as a member of its Executive Board.

Professor Ku joined GWSPH as a full-time faculty member in 2008, but he has held adjunct positions at GW's School of Public Policy and Public Administration since the early 1990s. During that time, he also served as a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which focuses on improving policies for low- and moderate-income Americans; as principal researcher at the Urban Institute; and as a policy and budget analyst for the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program.

Access to Health Care

Health Insurance

Health Reform

Medicaid and SCHIP


Safety Net Providers

Healthcare Workforce

Smoking Cessation

Children's Health

Community Health Centers

Federal and State Legislation, Laws and Policies

Bachelor of Arts (Biochemistry), Harvard College, 1975

Master of Science (Nutritional sciences), University of California, Berkeley, 1979

Master of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, 1979

Doctor of Philosophy (Health policy), Boston University, 1990 

PPOL 6022: Advanced Research Methods in Public Policy, School of Public Policy and Public Administration

PPOL 6013: Research Methods in Public Policy, School of Public Policy and Public Administration

PubH 6310: Statistical Analysis is Health Policy

PubH 6015.16: Health Policy Capstone (Culminating Experience)

PubH 8418: Doctoral Research Methods 2

Executive Board Member, District of Columbia Health Benefits Exchange Authority, 2012 - now

Professor Ku is the author, or co-author, of more than 200 articles and reports about health policy and public health focused on health care access and insurance coverage for low-income and vulnerable populations. Ku also directs the Center for Health Policy Research, a multidisciplinary research center which conducts health policy related research for numerous federal and state agencies, the National Institutes of Health, foundations and other organizations. His research creates evidence about policies that can promote or sustain access and health equity in the United States.   His policy research has been cited in federal, state and local legislation and in court decisions.  He is both a quantitative researcher and a researcher with a strong understanding of critical issues in the contemporary domestic health policy world.

Selected Peer-Reviewed Articles in Academic Journals

  • Ku L. The Association of Social Factors and Health Insurance Coverage with COVID-19 Vaccinations and Intentions.  Journal of General Internal Medicine.  Published online early Nov 29. 2021.  DOI: 10.1007/s11606-021-07213-6
  • Han X, Pittman P, Ku L. The Effect of National Health Service Corps Clinician Staffing on Medical and Behavioral Health Care Costs in Community Health Centers.  Medical Care.  2021 Oct. 59(2 Supp): S428-S433.  doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000001610
  • Brantley E,  Ku L.  Continuous Eligibility for Medicaid Is Associated with Improved Health Access.  Medical Care Research and Review.  2021 Sept. Online ahead of print.  https://doi.org/10.1177/10775587211021172
  • Brantley E, Darden M, Ku L.  Effects of Expanding Parental Medicaid Eligibility on Parental Health and Family Functioning, Academic Pediatrics, 2021 Aug.  Online ahead of print. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.acap.2021.07.017
  • Ku L.  Are Reductions in Immigrants’ Supplemental Security Income Participation Beneficial? It Is Not Completely Clear (invited editorial).  American Journal of Public Health. 111(6): 1003-4, June 2021.
  • Jewers M, Ku L.  Noncitizen Children Face Higher Health Harms Compared With Their Siblings Who Have US Citizen Status.  Health Affairs. July 2021. 40(7): 1084-89. (Selected as an Editor’s Pick for the journal in 2021.)
  • Wang X, Babb S, Xu X, Ku L, Glover-Kudon R, Armour B.  Receipt of Cessation Treatments Among Medicaid Enrollees Trying to Quit Smoking. Nicotine and Tobacco Research.  Advance Access.  Research, Feb. 2021, 1–5, doi:10.1093/ntr/ntaa213
  • Ku L, Han X, Chen C, Vujicic M.  Dental Education and Other Factors Associated with Medicaid Pediatric Dental Participation. Journal of Dental Education. 2020 Sept.  doi: 10.1002/jdd.12390
  • Ku L, Brantley E.  Conducting Evaluation Research for Policy and Legal Analysis in a Turbulent Policy Environment: The Example of Medicaid and SNAP Work Requirements. Sage Research Methods Cases: Medicine and Health, June 25, 2020. doi.org/10.4135/9781529743746
  • Brantley E, Pillai D, Ku L.  Associations of Work Requirements and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation by Race/Ethnicity and Disability Status, 2013-2017. JAMA Network Open, Jun. 26, 2020.  2020; 3(6):e205824. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.5824, 
  • Han X, Ku L. Enhancing Staffing in Rural Community Health Centers Can Improve Behavioral Health Care Health Affairs. 2019 Dec.; 38(12): 2061-68. 
  • Brantley E, Pillai D, Ku L.  Associations of Work Requirements and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation by Race/Ethnicity and Disability Status, 2013-2017. Forthcoming, JAMA Network Open, 2020.
  • Ku L, Brantley E, Pillai D.  The Effect of Work Requirements on SNAP Enrollment and Benefits.  American Journal of Public Health, 2019 Oct.; 109(10): 1446-1451.   
  • Behn M, Pace L, Ku L.  The Trump Administration’s Final Regulations Limit Insurance Coverage of Contraception.  Women’s Health Issues.  2019 Jan 7. p: S1049-3867.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.whi.2018.12.00 
  • Han X, Pittman P, Erickson C, Mullan F, Ku L.  Effect of the National Health Service Corps on Clinician Staffing and Patient Visits in Federally Qualified Health Centers.  Forthcoming, Medical Care.
  • Bruen BK, Ku L.  The Effects of Community Health Center Care on Medical Expenditures for Children and Adults: Propensity Score Analyses.  Journal of Ambulatory Care Management,  2019; 42(2): 128-37.  https://journals.lww.com/ambulatorycaremanagement/Fulltext/2019/04000/T…
  • Lantz P, Miller G, Ryhan C, Rosenbaum S, Ku L, Iovan S.  “Pay for Success” Financing and Home-Based Multicomponent Childhood Asthma Interventions: Modeling Results from the Detroit Medicaid Population.  Milbank Quarterly.  2018; 96(2): 272-99.
  • Brantley E, Greene J, Bruen B, Steinmetz E, Ku L.  Policies Affecting Medicaid Beneficiaries’ Smoking Cessation Behaviors. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 201821(4): 197-204.
  • Holla N, Brantley E, Ku L.  Physicians’ Recommendations to Medicaid Patients about Tobacco Cessation.  American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Dec. 2018.  55(6): 762–769.
  • Ku L, Steinmetz E, Bysshe T, Bruen B. Crossing Boundaries: Medicaid and Public Health Collaborations to Help Smokers Quit, Public Health Reports, 2017 Feb, Vol. 132(2) 164-170.

  • Han X, Luo Q,  Ku L.  Medicaid Expansions and Increases in Grant Funding Increased the Capacity of Community Health Centers, Health Affairs, 2017 Jan.; 36 (1):49-56.

  • Lantz P, Rosenbaum S, Ku L, Iovan S. Pay for Success Initiatives in the U.S.:  Potential and Challenges as a Strategy for Population Health Improvement, Health Affairs, 2016 Nov; 35:2053-2061

  • Frogner B, Pittman P, Masselink Ku L L, Do Years of Experience with EHRs Matter for Productivity in Community Health Centers?  Journal of Ambulatory Care Management. 2017 Jan/Mar;  40(1): 36-47.

  • Ku L, Brantley E, Bysshe T, Steinmetz E, Bruen B.  How Medicaid and Other Public Policies Affect Utilization of Tobacco Cessation. Preventing Chronic Diseases, 2016 Oct;13:160234. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd13.160234.2016.

  • Bruen B, Steinmetz E, Bysshe T,  Glassman P, Ku L.  Care for Potentially Preventable Dental Conditions in Operating Rooms by Medicaid Children, Journal of the American Dental Association, 2016 Sept. :147(9):702-708 (cover story)

  • Ku L, Bysshe T, Steinmetz E, Bruen B.  Health Reform, Medicaid Expansions and Women’s Cancer Screening, Women’s Health Issues, Feb. 2016.  http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.whi.2016.01.0

  • August E, Steinmetz E, Gavin L, Rivera M, Pazol K, Moskosky S, Weik T, Ku L.  Projecting the Unmet Need and Costs for Contraception Services after Health Care Reform, American Journal of Public Health. 106(2): 334–341, Feb. 2016.  doi:10.2105/AJPH.2015.302928

  • Ku L Bruen B, Steinmetz E, Bysshe T.  Medicaid Tobacco Cessation: Big Gaps Remain In Efforts To Get Smokers To Quit, Health Affairs,  35:62-70, Jan. 2016; doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2015.0756

  • Ku L.  Immigrants Face Barriers Both as Health Care Patients and Providers,  Harvard Health Policy Review, 15(1):22-24, Fall 2015.

  • Jones E, Ku L. Sharing a Playbook: Integrated Care in Community Health Centers, American Journal of Public Health. 105(1). 2028-2034, October 2015,   doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2015.302710

  • Zur J, Ku L.  Factors Associated with Geographic Variation in Psychiatric Prescription Drug Expenditures among Medicaid Beneficiaries, Journal of Behavioral Health Services & Research, epub ahead of print July 24, 2015, doi: 10.1007/s11414-015-9471-x.

  • Ku L, Frogner B, Steinmetz E, Pittman P.  Community Health Centers Use Diverse Staffing and Can Provide Lessons for Other Medical Practices, Health Affairs  34(1):95-103, Jan. 2015. 

  • Jones E, Ku L, Smith S, Lardiere  M. County Workforce, Reimbursement, and Organizational Factors Associated with Behavioral Health Capacity in Health Centers, Journal of Behavior and Health Services Research, 2014 Apr;41(2):125-39. 

  • Bruen B, Ku L, Lu X, Shin P.   No Evidence That Primary Care Physicians Offer Less Care To

  • Medicaid, Community Health Center Or Uninsured Patients, Health Affairs, 32(9): 1624-30, Sept. 2013.

  • Ku L, Steinmetz E, Bruen, B. Continuous Eligibility Policies Stabilize Medicaid Coverage for

  • Children and Could Be Extended to Adults with Similar Results, Health Affairs, 32(9): 1576-82, Sept. 2013.

  • Ku L, Sharac J, Bruen B, Thomas M, Norris L.  Increased Use of Dental Services by Children Covered by Medicaid: 2000-2010 Medicare and Medicaid Research Review 3(3): E1-E12.  July 2013.  

  • Levy A, Bruen B, Ku L. Health Care Reform and Women’s Insurance Coverage for Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening.  Preventing Chronic Disease.  9: 120069.  Oct. 25, 2012.  DOI: http//dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd9.120069.

  • Levy A, Bruen B, Ku L.  The Potential Employment Impact of Health Reform on Working-Age Adults With Disabilities, Journal of Disability Studies.  30 May 2012. DOI: 10.1177/1044207312446225

  • Willard R, Shah G, Leep C, Ku L.  Impact of the 2008-2010 Economic Recession on Local Health Departments, Journal of Public Health Management and Practice, 18(2):106-114, Mar/Apr. 2012.

  • Richard P, West K, Ku L. The Return on Investment of a Medicaid Tobacco Cessation Program in Massachusetts PLoS ONE, 7(1): e29665, January 2012.  doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0029665.

  • Rosenbaum S,  Ku L, Lantz P, et al. Examining the Evidentiary Basis of Congress’s Commerce Clause Power to Address Individuals’ Health Insurance Status, BNA’s Health Care Policy Report, Feb. 6, 2012, p 1-9. 

  • Richard P, Ku L, Dor A, Tan E, Shin P, Rosenbaum S.  Cost Savings Associated with the Use of Community Health Centers. Journal of Ambulatory Care Management, 35(1): 50-59. Jan-Mar. 2012. 

  • Ku L, Jones E, Shin P, Burke FR, Long S. Safety-net providers after health care reform: lessons from Massachusetts Archives of Internal Medicine, 171(15): 1379-84, Aug. 8, 2011.

  • Bruen B, Ku L, Burke M, Buntin M. More Than Four in Five Office-Based Physicians Could Quality for Federal Electronic Health Record Incentives. Health Affairs, 30(3): 472-80, Mar. 2011.

  • Ku L, Jones K, Shin P, Bruen B, Hayes K.  The States’ Next Challenge — Securing Enough Primary Care for an Expanded Medicaid Population. New England Journal of Medicine 364(6):493-95, Feb. 10, 2011. Also supplementary appendix available at http://www.nejm.org/doi/suppl/10.1056/NEJMp1011623/suppl_file/nejmp1011623_appendix.pdf

  • Ku L  Ready, Set, Plan, Implement.  Executing Medicaid’s Expansion Health Affairs, 29(6): 1173-77, June 2010.

  • Ku L, Pervez F. Documenting Citizenship in Medicaid: The Struggle Between Ideology and Evidence, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 35(1): 5-28, February 2010.

  • Ku L. Medical and Dental Care Utilization and Expenditures Under Medicaid and Private Health Insurance, Medical Care Research and Review, 66(4):456-71, August 2009. 

  • Ku L Health Insurance Coverage and Medical Expenditures for Immigrants and Native-Born Citizens in the United States, American Journal of Public Health, 99(7): 1322-28, July 2009.

  • Ku L, Broaddus M. Public and Private Health Insurance: Stacking Up the Costs, Health Affairs, 27(4):w318-327, June 2008. 

  • Ku L Improving Health Insurance and Access to Care for Children in Immigrant Families, Ambulatory Pediatrics, 7(6):412-20, November 2007.

  • Ponce, N.,  Ku L, Cunningham W, Brown ER. Language Barriers to Health Care Access Among Medicare Beneficiaries, Inquiry, 43(1):66–76, Spring 2006.

  • Ku L, Flores G. Pay Now or Pay Later: Providing Interpreter Services In Health Care, Health Affairs, 24(2) 435-44, March/April 2005.

  • Lessard G, Ku L. Gaps in Coverage for Children in Immigrant Families, The Future of Children, 13(1):101-115, Spring 2003.

  • Ku L, St. Louis M, Black C, Aral S, Turner C, Lindberg L, Sonenstein F. Risk Behaviors, Medical Care and Chlamydial Infection Among Young Men in the United States, American Journal of Public Health, 92(7): 1140-42, July 2002.

  • Ku L, Matani S. Left Out: Immigrants’ Access to Health Care and Insurance, Health Affairs, 20(1):247-56, Jan./Feb. 2001.

  • Ku L, Ellwood M, Hoag S, Ormond B, Wooldridge J. The Evolution of Medicaid Managed Care Systems and Eligibility Expansions, Health Care Financing Review, 22(2):7-29, Winter 2000. 

  • Coughlin T, Ku L, Kim J., Reforming the Medicaid Disproportionate Share Program in the 1990s,  Health Care Financing Review, 22(2):137-58, Winter 2000. 

  • Ku L, Coughlin T, Sliding Scale Premium Health Insurance Programs: Four States’ Experience, Inquiry, 36(4):471-80, Winter 2000.


Selected Policy Reports, Blogs and Other Translational Research and Analysis