Mont. senators challenge HHS redefining ‘frontier’

Currently, HHS defines a community with fewer than six people per square mile as “frontier and remote” (FAR), but is considering changing the definition from population density to a community's distance from a major population center. Rural areas receive grants from HHS to fund community health centers in lower-populated places — Tester and Baucus fear that a change in the definition of "frontier and remote" could mean less money for communities in their state.

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"By no longer including low population density as a factor, the nation's smallest communities and regions may be forced to compete with many more communities for already scarce resources," Tester and Baucus wrote to the Office of Rural Health Policy. “Distance from the edge of a population center alone does not account for the challenges sparsely populated areas face for providing needed services.

"We urge you to retain the current six-person-per-square mile standard to accurately reflect the needs of rural communities."

Tester and Baucus also requested that local, state, tribal and non-governmental organizations be allowed to apply for waivers if any changes are made.

“This flexibility is especially important if the base data for defining these areas will only be updates every decade with census data,” the letter stated. “We look forward to reviewing modifications to the definitions of frontier and remote that better reflect the concerns that others from frontier states have shared.”