Skip to main content

The Commonwealth Fund


Last Updated: 2016-08-18

At A Glance

The Commonwealth Fund

1 E. 75th St.

New York City, NY United States 10021-2692


Type of Grantmaker

Independent foundation

Financial Data

(yr. ended 2015-06-30)

Assets: $769,125,118

Total giving: $18,857,240





Additional Contact Information

E-mail for questions from grant applicants:


Incorporated in 1918 in NY - Stephen V. Harkness began his career in New York State's Finger Lake region at age 15 as an apprentice harness maker. Harkness eventually settled in Ohio and became a successful businessman. He invested early in the petroleum refining business and provided funds at a critical moment in the history of the fledgling Standard Oil Company. After his death in 1888, his wife Anna moved the family to New York City where she gave to religious, welfare, and cultural institutions. Anna Harkness founded The Commonwealth Fund in 1918. The fund's first president was her son, Edward Stephen Harkness, who shared his mother's commitment to building a responsive and socially concerned philanthropy and who, over the years, gave generously to the fund's endowment

Purpose and Activities

The mission of the fund is to promote a high performing healthcare system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society's most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, minority Americans, young children, and elderly adults. The fund carries out this mandate by supporting independent research on health care issues and making grants to improve healthcare practice and policy. An international program in health policy is designed to stimulate innovative policies and practices in the United States and other industrialized countries.

Program Area(s)

The grantmaker has identified the following area(s) of interest:

Advancing Medicare

The initiative identifies ways in which Medicare, the largest single payer of health care services in the United States, can serve its beneficiaries more effectively and efficiently while helping to foster health system improvements nationwide. Through the initiative the fund will be studying potential solutions to the issues facing the program. The fund and its grantees will examine how Medicare can: a) Improve access to care needed by aged and disabled beneficiaries; b) Lower program costs; c) Assess and disseminate innovations in care delivery and provider payment throughout the program and the entire health system; d) Improve coordination between Medicare and other public programs, like Medicaid; and e) Work together with private insurers, particularly as the new state insurance marketplaces open for business .

Affordable Health Insurance

The program will furnish policymakers and key stakeholders with timely analysis to inform successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Activities will include: a) Providing timely information about the law's reforms and the status of their implementation; b) Tracking enrollment and people's experiences with the new insurance options; c) Evaluating the effects of insurance reforms and state and federal innovation on the extent and quality of health coverage, access to health care, changes in employer-based coverage, affordability of premiums and out-of-pocket costs, health plan competition, innovation in insurance markets, and sustainability of the insurance marketplaces; d) Analyzing and developing national and state short-term policy solutions to address implementation issues as they arise; and d) Identifying gaps in the law and its implementation that may leave some groups of people without coverage or adequate protection from costs. .

Breakthrough Health Care Opportunities

The program will explore emerging technologies, care delivery processes, organizational models, incentives, and policies that could have a game-changing effect on health system performance. By bringing together innovators, users, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and regulators, the program will facilitate the translation of these innovative ideas into practice. In its first year, the program will focus on three areas: a) Engaging consumers in their health care through information technology; b) Next-generation provider incentives that are grounded in behavioral change theory; and c) "Frugal innovations" from the developing world that may be transferable to the United States.

Engaging Federal and State Health Policymakers

The initiative provides independent analysis of health care issues tailored for those serving in state and federal government. The fund’s team helps to inform and educate congressional members and staff, officials in the executive branch, state policymakers, and the broader policy community—across the political spectrum—on issues central to achieving a high-performance health system .

Grants to Individuals Program

Health policy fellowships to junior health policy researchers or practitioners from the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand for research and training in the U.S., and also fellowships for the study of public policy in New Zealand. .

Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy and Practice

The fund invites promising mid-career professionals—academic researchers, clinicians, managers, government policymakers, and journalists—from Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom, to apply for a unique opportunity to spend up to 12 months in the United States as a Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice. Up to 16 Fellows are selected annually. Fellows work with leading U.S. experts to study a critical issue on the health policy agenda in both the U.S. and their home country. A rich program of seminars organized by the Fund throughout the year further enhances the fellowship experience. Fellowships provide up to U.S. $119,000 for terms up to 12 months, with a minimum stay of ten months in the United States required. Support also includes round trip airfare to the U.S., a monthly stipend, support toward the portion of the project conducted in the home country, project-related travel and other research expenses, tuition for related academic courses, and health insurance. In addition, a family supplement is available to fellows accompanied by a spouse and/or children up to age 18. See web site for 2014-2015 deadlines.

Health Care Delivery System Reform

The program's goal is to improve outcomes and lower costs for high-cost, complex and vulnerable patient populations. Work supported by the program will be governed by five strategies: a) Promoting care systems that coordinate medical care, long-term care services, and community-based resources; b) Reforming how providers are paid for their services to encourage more coordination, better quality, and greater efficiency; c) Strengthening primary care; d) Partnering with payers, particularly Medicare and Medicaid, and with private payers to test and spread effective innovations; e) Developing the physician leadership needed to address the health needs of vulnerable populations through the Mongan Commonwealth Fund Fellowship Program in Minority Health Policy.

International Health Policy and Practice Innovations

The program seeks to learn about successful approaches taken by other advanced countries to ensure access to high-quality, cost-effective health care, and then share those lessons among our peer nations. The program promotes cross-national learning by: a) Annually surveying the public, patients, and physicians in 11 countries to compare health system performance; b) Organizing an annual International Symposium on Health Care Policy, attended by health ministers and senior government officials, as well as other multinational forums; c) Sponsoring the Harkness Fellowships in Health Policy and Practice, which enable promising health care policy researchers and practitioners in nine countries to spend up to 12 months in the U.S. conducting policy-oriented research, gaining firsthand exposure to innovative models of health care delivery, and working with leading policy experts. The fellowship has a number of international cosponsors; and d) Identifying and disseminating information about health care delivery system innovations abroad that might also work in the U.S.

International Program in Health Policy

The initiative monitors and analyzes spending in both the public and private health care sectors. It seeks answers to two central questions: 1) What is driving higher or lower costs and spending in health care markets across the country? 2) What policy reforms, innovations in care delivery, or changes in provider payment have the potential to reduce costs while improving outcomes in all regions? Patients with the highest and costliest health care needs, such as people with multiple chronic conditions, are a particular emphasis of the initiative. Research efforts also focus on the cost impact of new medical technologies and changing demographics, as well as the role of prices, treatment patterns, and resource use.

Mongan Commonwealth Fund Fellowship Program in Minority Health Policy

Moving toward a high-performance health care system requires trained, dedicated physician leaders who can promote policies and practices that improve minority Americans' access to high-quality care. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, it is more important than ever that minority health care needs be represented by well-trained clinician leaders as policies in the new law are implemented. Since 1996, the Mongan Commonwealth Fund Fellowship Program in Minority Health Policy has played an important role in developing such leaders. Based at Harvard Medical School under the direction of Joan Reede, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., M.B.A., the dean for diversity and community partnership, the year-long Fellowship offers intensive study in health policy, public health, and management for physicians with a commitment to changing the system to better serve vulnerable minority populations. Fellows also participate in leadership forums and seminars with nationally recognized leaders in minority health and public policy. Under the program, fellows complete academic work leading to a master's degree in public health at the Harvard School of Public Health. .

Program-Related Investment

Historically, the fund made PRIs in the form of loans in the areas of health, economic development, recreation, and philanthropy. The foundation has also provided support for intermediaries.

Tracking Health System Performance

The initiative is assessing the nation’s progress toward expanding the availability of high-quality care, achieving healthier outcomes, and lowering costs, including whether through the Affordable Care Act the investment in expanded health insurance coverage and innovations in care delivery is yielding hoped-for gains. Building on a series of national, state, and local health system scorecards begun in 2006, the initiative provides performance benchmarks and improvement targets while helping to inform future action by policymakers and health care stakeholders .

Fields of Interest

  • Health
  • Health care administration and financing
  • Health care financing
  • Health care management
  • Health insurance
International Interests
  • Australia
  • Canada
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Population Groups
  • Academics
  • Adults
  • Economically disadvantaged people
  • Ethnic and racial groups
  • Low-income and poor people
  • People with disabilities
  • Seniors

Financial Data

Year ended 2015-06-30

Assets: $769,125,118 (market value)

Expenditures: $37,810,776

Total giving: $18,857,240

Qualifying distributions: $30,577,081

Giving activities include:

$18,390,865 for 251 grants (high: $2,173,393; low: $500)

$466,375 employee matching gifts

$6,608,043 for foundation-administered programs