Rural Health and Underserved Areas

The Bureau of Rural Health & Primary Care implements programs and provides resources to improve access to healthcare in Idaho’s rural and underserved areas. These efforts include clinician loan repayment programs, health workforce initiatives, health professional shortage area designations, education and resources for critical access hospital, rural health clinics, and free medical clinics, and support for the transition to value-based healthcare.

Rural Health & Primary Care Brief

About rural health and primary care in Idaho

Because Idaho is a large and mostly rural western state, geography and distance impact the health and safety of Idahoans. The residents of Idaho’s rural communities tend to be older, experience higher rates of poverty and lower per capita income, and have higher uninsured rates, as compared to their urban counterparts. 

The challenge of access to healthcare 

The federal government designates Health Professional Shortage Areas for communities with a shortage of providers for primary care, dental health, or mental health. The shortage designations may include geographic areas, population groups, or facilities.

Economic impact

Health services contribute significantly to disease prevention and management and play a vital role in supporting state and local economies. In Idaho, the average physician directly and indirectly supports an estimated 12 jobs and generates approximately $1.9 million in economic benefits.

Map of Idaho's rural and urban counties
Upcoming events and webinars
2024 Idaho Rural Healthcare Conference (Formerly CAH-RHC-FMC)
Previous educational opportunities
Medical interpretation


Idaho CAH-RHC-FMC Annual Conference
Idaho Critical Access Hospital Compliance Webinar Series
Panhandle Health Diabetes Prevention Program Overview
Idaho CAH Swing Bed
Safety-net provider organizations
Critical access hospitals (CAH)

This federal designation is designed for rural hospitals with 25 beds or less to improve access to healthcare and reduce financial vulnerability. 

Targeted education and technical assistance: finance and operations, Medicare beneficiary quality improvement project (MBQIP), swing bed education, antimicrobial stewardship, and population health.

There are 27 CAHs in Idaho. See map below.

Idaho CAH Map

Rural health clinics (RHC)

This Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) certification is designed for rural primary care clinics in underserved areas and requires a team-based healthcare approach. 

Targeted education and technical assistance for RHCs: billing and coding, operations and finance, medical interpreter education, compliance, and others.

Idaho RHC map

Starting a Rural Health Clinic - (A How-to Manual from the Health Resources and Services Administration)

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) RHCs Center


Registered free medical clinics (FMC)

FMCs may register with Idaho through the department if all the terms and conditions are met under Idaho Code Title 39, Chapter 77. Registration with Idaho offers liability immunity to primary care clinicians who are not compensated for the care they provide. Registration requires completion and submission of an application with a one-time $50 processing fee.

As a registered free medical clinic, you may be eligible to receive donated prescription medications under the Idaho Legend Drug Donation Act, Idaho Code 54-1762.



Health professional shortage areas in Idaho
Primary care
Mental health
Dental health
Shortage designations
Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA)

The Primary Care Office develops and coordinates all Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) designation applications in partnership with Idaho communities and the Department of Health and Human Services. After awarded, a federally designated HPSA can last up to four years.

Federal designations establish eligibility for federal and state resources such as National Health Service Corps (NHSC) scholarship and loan repayment programs, the Medicare incentive payment program, and rural health care access program funding.

Health professional shortage area designations are determined for areas, populations and facilities in the categories of primary medical care, dental health and mental health.

Medically Underserved Area/Population (MUA/P)

The primary care office develops and submits applications for all federal Medically underserved area/population (MUA/P) designations in partnership with Idaho communities and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The MUA/P designations determine eligibility for federal and state resources, such as the development of community, migrant, or homeless health clinics through 330 funding (Section 330 of the PHS Act as amended) and health care safety net amendments of 2002 (Public Law 107-251).

Maternity Care Target Areas (MCTAs)

MCTAs are a new sub-designation granted to areas and facilities already designated as a Primary Care HPSA. These new sub-designations allow HRSA to address shortages in maternal care, separate from traditional primary care shortage designations, with the intent of identifying areas that demonstrate a need for increased maternal care services. Using this method, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will grant qualifying primary care shortage areas a second, separate, MCTA score alongside the primary care HPSA score for resource prioritization.

Health Professional Shortage Areas
Search for federally designated HPSAs in Idaho.
Medically Underserved Area/Population
Search for federally designated MUA/Ps in Idaho.
Idaho primary care needs assessment

The Idaho primary care needs assessment provides an overview of the federal Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) and Medically Underserved Area and Population (MUA/MUP) designations, programs and resources in Idaho relevant to preventative and primary care access and improvement, as well as primary care educational opportunities and advanced medical training programs available within the state.

Bureau of Rural Health & Primary Care

450 W State Street - 4th Floor
P.O. Box 83720
Boise, ID 83720-0036
United States