$1.1 Million Grant Will Enable Milken Institute School of Public Health Researchers to Study Economic Costs of Community Health Centers

Avi Dor, PhD

Avi Dor, PhD of the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) Department of Health Policy and Management is the principal investigator for a $1.1 million grant. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is funding a four-year project that Dor is leading 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,” Dor said. “The long-term viability of our community health centers is dependent upon their sustained financial health.”

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. The R01 project represents 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 is an expert in health economics. His team, which includes researchers at Milken Institute SPH and Boston University, will use an econometric approach to generate and analyze the data. The research will use a unique combination of under-utilized center-level databases to estimate the cost savings that community health centers produce through their pioneering and widespread integration of primary care and mental health services.

There is a dearth of information on the cost of the myriad of services centers provide, which is becoming increasingly important given a newly constrained funding environment,” Dor said. “Conventional accounting methods are unable to assess the quality-adjusted costs of the services offered by community health centers. Our econometric analysis will explore the trade-offs between quality and costs that community health centers may 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, Dor pointed out that data generated from the project could influence policymakers’ decisions.

“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.

Dor was awarded the first R01 in the School of Public Health, back when it was still part of the George Washington University School of Medicine.  This award is Dor’s third R01 since he arrived at GW.