Charles BrownUncertainty surrounding public healthcare exchanges and the impacts due to approaching changes in Medicaid eligibility has caused many health systems to reexamine how they deliver care. Health systems that are seeking to provide greater value to their communities should consider collaborating with federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), given the special legal and financial status of these organizations and their experience treating populations with complex needs.

As a result of their expertise in caring for vulnerable and underserved populations, FQHCs are particularly well-equipped to deliver or coordinate primary care, diagnostic, and preventive clinical services for newly insured Medicaid patients. FQHCs typically provide case management-enabling services such as outreach, transportation, and education about the availability and proper use of healthcare services. As such, an FQHC may be able to fill an important link in a system’s continuum of care.

Unlike most providers, FQHCs have safe harbor status from the anti-kickback statute, provided that arrangements are not conditioned upon referrals to the supplier. Appropriate arrangements result in savings of federal grant funds or increased revenues to the FQHC, do not limit patient choice, protect the independent medical judgment of providers, and can reasonably be expected to maintain or increase service availability and quality.

Building relationships with FQHCs can enable health systems to improve the value, availability, and appropriateness of care for all members of the community. As reimbursement moves toward increasingly risk- and value-based models, FQHCs also bring unique expertise within the continuum of care in delivering care to patients who are at higher risk of undergoing avoidable care due to socioeconomic and clinical factors. Successful partnerships between health systems and FQHCs focus on collaborative strategies of mutual and community benefit. Overarching health system strategies leading to benefits for all parties may include:

  • Partnering with FQHCs to manage the health of Medicaid, uninsured, and newly insured exchange populations
  • Aligning with FQHCs to increase access to primary care services within the community
  • Integrating clinical management functions to improve the coordination of care

With increasing pressure to operate under performance based arrangements for increasing Medicaid and public exchange oriented products, health systems may wish to explore opportunities to include FQHCs in their delivery system.


Charles Brown is a senior manager, ECG Management Consultants Inc., Arlington, Va., and a member of HFMA's Colorado Chapter.

Publication Date: Monday, April 22, 2013