Tester, Baucus challenge government effort to redefine ‘frontier’

Senators say effort could cut services, cost Montana taxpayers

(U.S. SENATE) – Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus are standing up for rural Montana’s health care needs and families by demanding that the government reconsider efforts to change the definition of ‘frontier.’

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently defines a community with fewer than six people per square mile as ‘frontier.’ These highly rural regions, with limited populations and resources, often need help to hire health professionals and provide needed services.

But the department is considering changing the definition of ‘frontier’ from population density to a community’s distance from a major population center. Tester, who hails from Big Sandy (pop. 700), and Baucus say the new definition means bigger communities outside Montana would benefit at the expense of smaller Montana communities.

“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 told the Office of Rural Health Policy. “We urge you to retain the current six-person per square mile standard to accurately reflect the needs of rural communities.”

Tester and Baucus said that low population density presents more hurdles for communities than their distance from a major population center. Low population density makes it difficult for communities to recruit and retain health professionals, support emergency services, and provide transportation services.

Tester and Baucus also pushed the agency to allow local, state, tribal and non-governmental organizations to submit additional information and apply for waivers if any changes are made.

Tester, the Senate’s only working farmer, and Baucus also recently demanded better phone call reliability for rural areas after Montanans told them that too many calls are being dropped across the Big Sky State.

The Office of Rural Health Policy is a branch of the Department of Health and Human Services.