The Safety Net of the Safety Net: How Federally Qualified Health Centers “Subsidize” Medicaid Managed Care


In this article, I examine the impact of neoliberalism and welfare reform on the delivery of Medicaid, specifically how the advent of Medicaid managed care (MMC) has been wrought with contradictions, placing increased burdens on primary safety-net organizations and impacting the many communities they serve. I argue that federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) operate as a primary safety net among safety-net providers, supporting and subsidizing New Mexico’s MMC program financially and administratively. By presenting ethnographic data, I will demonstrate how FQHCs pay many of the hidden financial and institutional costs of the shift to managed care. Such findings uncover paradoxes inherent to neoliberal ideologies and privatization, raising questions about the efficacy of a managed care system for Medicaid as well as the future of the health care safety net and access to health care for the diverse populations it serves.