Med-QUEST invests millions into UH at Mānoa’s Health Policy Initiative


Nicole Pasia


Med-QUEST, Hawaiʻi ’s Medicaid division, recently announced a $10 million, multi-year commitment to health information and research initiatives at the University of Hawaiʻi  (UH) at Mānoa to improve health outcomes in the state.


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The partnership, which has formally been in the works since 2018, supports UH Mānoa’s Health Policy Initiative (HPI). The initiative supports research and the creation of health policy recommendations for the state. It has the following goals: coordinate public health research efforts, strengthen the state health workforce, promote healthier families and communities, and advance health-related policies. 

Jack Barile, Ph.D., Interim Director of the Social Science Research Institute at UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences, is spearheading the project. The collaboration is key to supporting the needs of Med-QUEST enrollees, which have steadily increased during the Covid pandemic, he said. 

“Med-QUEST changed a lot of policies and opened up registration limits on who can qualify for Medicaid [during the pandemic],” Barile said. “Frankly, the social circumstances that people live in Hawaiʻi  , as they did nationally, were squeezed so that their enrollment increased dramatically.”

The latest Med-QUEST data shows over 444,000 people enrolled as of April 11, 2022. That’s a 36% increase since the start of the pandemic, with about one third of the state population now on Medicaid. 

HPI will use some of the funds to contract an evaluation of Hawaiʻi’s 1115 waiver, which allows the state to use managed care delivery. The state last submitted an extension application in 2019 for a contract that lasts through July 2024. 

A large part of the Med-QUEST funding is dedicated to another key task for HPI: building out the Hawaiʻi  Health Data Center. The original intent of the project was to create an all-payer claims database for providers and other health professionals, but has since expanded to include other data sources from the Department of Health. 

Aside from these two main initiatives, funding will support two HPI faculty positions, staff, and various pilot projects. Research gathered from the pilot projects has already helped expand care in the state, according to Barile. For example, data shows the use of telehealth has proved advantageous for serving those experiencing homelessness. 

“[Providers are] able to take pictures of wounds and send it in, talk to nurses, and get approvals for a population that, logistically, can’t always get to a health care center,” he said.  “Generally speaking, coming from a vulnerable population already, you really want to limit that additional potential exposure if possible.”

Aside from working directly with Med-QUEST to address the health needs of Hawaiʻi  ’s most vulnerable communities, Barile said the data HPI gathers will be key to informing future health policy decisions in the legislature. 

HPI can also serve as a long-term investment in consolidating the state’s public health infrastructure.

“We’re hopefully coming to a place where we build infrastructure around systems so that they are more sustainable,” Barile said. “We’re moving away from a crisis mode and into something where we’re identifying programs or approaches that are really effective, pandemic or no pandemic, and fine-tuning the ones that have not been.”