Medicaid and Community Health Centers: An Enduring Relationship Key to Health System Transformation, Commentary Says

Community health centers celebrate their milestone fiftieth anniversary in 2015, as does the Medicaid program. In a commentary published in the July issue of Health Affairs, Peter Shin, PhD, MPH, director of the Geiger Gibson Program in Community Health Policy at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University, notes that both have come a long way and are at a critical juncture.  Shin and his colleagues, all members of the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, point out that the two programs have an enduring inter-dependent relationship that can be traced back to their early implementation, growing out of the War on Poverty and the civil rights movement.

“Medicaid’s expansion and growth have made the modern community health center program possible,” Shin and his colleagues say in the commentary. At the same time, “health centers represent one of the principal sources of primary care for the nation’s Medicaid population.”

The commentary goes on to say that Medicaid and community health centers have played and will continue to play a major role in the transformation of the U.S. health care system.  The authors say that health centers are often on the leading edge of change—whether it is becoming medical homes for the highest-risk patients or implementing broader delivery system reforms.

Shin and his colleagues contend that the two programs should now come together and create a “purposeful collaboration” that “builds on the valuable lessons that both programs have learned and can thus achieve what neither can accomplish alone: better and more accessible health care that rests on financing strategies designed to promote quality and efficiency.”

Shin was the primary author of the commentary along with Sara Rosenbaum, JD, the Harold and Jane Hirsh Professor of Health Law and Policy and Senior Research Associate Jessica Sharac, MSc, MPH—all at Milken Institute SPH, which is the academic home of the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative. The collaborative is funded by the RCHN Community Health Foundation.

“Community Health Centers are celebrating fifty successful years expanding access to high quality, affordable health care services to medically underserved people across the United States,” says Feygele Jacobs, president and CEO of the RCHN Community Health Foundation. “To ensure success over the next fifty years and beyond, their continued strong and deliberate engagement with Medicaid remains essential.”

The commentary, “Community Health Centers And Medicaid at 50: An Enduring Relationship Essential for Health System Transformation,” appears in the July issue of Health Affairs.

Health Affairs will hold a July 8 forum featuring Shin and other leading authors to discuss the topics raised in the July issue.