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National Guardsmen set up orange barricades for traffic control at the COVID-19 testing site at Cortana Mall Monday July 6, 2020, in Baton Rouge.

As this newspaper so clearly points out in its continuing coverage, Louisiana hospitals and health care providers are being put to the test as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise in our state. If Congress fails to update some of the terms of a Medicare program created to provide support for our health care institutions, things could get even harder.

To help hospitals offset the cost of dealing with coronavirus, Congress expanded an existing program — the Medicare Accelerated and Advance Payment Programs (MAAPP) — to give hospitals and other providers access to advances on some Medicare payments.

However, the repayment terms could end up hurting hospitals more than helping them. As a physician and member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Sen. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge understands what’s at stake here.

Under current terms hospitals will not only have to pay off their entire loan within one year or face an excessive 10% interest rate, but they will also lose 100% of their Medicare fee-for-service payments until the loan is completely paid off.

Cassidy should leverage his leadership role in the Senate and medical experience to push for changes that improve MAAPP. Extending the start date for loan repayment to 12 months; reducing the amount of repayment taken from Medicare claims; and reducing the interest rate to 1% — if not scrapping it altogether — would be a great place to start.

This cannot wait. By Aug. 1, it will be too late and the challenges facing Louisiana hospitals and could be insurmountable. Our senator and Congress should act soon to keep Louisiana hospitals strong and protect vulnerable patients.

MARKALAIN DERY

medical director for infectious diseases, Access Health Louisiana

New Orleans