Dr. Andrew Bindman, CAMRI's Founder and Director, developed the concept for the CAMRI in 2004. The goal was to create an institutional partnership between the University of California and the California Medicaid (Medi-Cal) program so that research evidence might be better applied and more efficiently used in the policy- and decision-making process. The Institute draws from the large pool of health services researchers at the University of California to fulfill this purpose.

The model was established with the help of several important collaborators at the University, within the Medi-Cal program, and at similar University-Medicaid program partnerships in other states.

Given the size and scope of the Medi-Cal program, Dr. Bindman believed from the outset that the University would need to pool its resources across its campuses to meet the State's research needs. Dr. Bindman worked with key senior health policy researchers at the University including Dr. Richard Brown at UCLA and Dr. Richard Kronick at UCSD to develop the concept. He also relied on Gil Ojeda at the University's California Program on Access to Care (CPAC) to convene faculty working group meetings and to provide technical assistance in engaging the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) in the process. The Vice-Provost's Office of Research within UCOP and CPAC provided pilot funding to staff the development phase.

Between 2004 and 2006, the multi-campus faculty group at the University engaged with leadership at California's Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), which administers Medi-Cal, to identify common interests and to discuss key issues related to financing research, sharing data, communicating regularly, publishing, and ensuring objectivity and academic freedom. These discussions were facilitated by a report commissioned by the California HealthCare Foundation describing similar relationships between universities and Medicaid programs in a few other states. These discussions culminated in the establishment of a Master Agreement in 2007 to support a collaborative research partnership between the University and the DHCS.

In 2009, the University demonstrated its on-going commitment to this partnership through the designation and funding of CAMRI as a multi-campus research institute. The UCOP support enabled CAMRI to hire a Deputy Director, to launch its website, and to pursue the establishment of a training program for graduate and professional students to obtain service learning within the Medi-Cal program.

CAMRI has also sought to learn from and develop the shared capacity of other university-state partnerships focused on Medicaid and state health policy. In 2012 and 2013 CAMRI identified and surveyed leaders in all other states with similar partnerships about their structure, functions, contracting mechanisms, and projects, culminating in a published article and presentations.